Lawmakers schedule hearing on bill to reshape boatline
Marc Hanover, Vineyard Steamship Authority member, will ask the Dukes County commissioners and Island selectmen to oppose a bill that has suddenly appeared on the state legislature's agenda.
If approved, House bill No. 3681 would put the now independent boatline authority within the Executive Office of Transportation. The Joint Committee on Transportation is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the bill Thursday.
Marc Hanover, Vineyard SSA member, described the bill as an end run by union leaders who remain without a contract. "They are looking for political alternatives instead of coming to the bargaining table," said Mr. Hanover.
The last time the legislature decided to tinker with the boatline, lawmakers expanded the Authority membership to include New Bedford and gave the New Bedford and Barnstable member a vote. "Anytime the enabling act gets messed with, Islanders always tend to pay the price," said Mr. Hanover.
SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said he is taking the legislation very seriously, as he would any bill before lawmakers. "We plan to attend the hearing and speak in opposition to the bill," said Mr. Lamson. "I do not know of any elected official on either island that is in favor of something like this."
Mr. Lamson said that the board is working well together and the boatline is running relatively smoothly and has just completed a number of capital projects. He said the bill is similar to legislation filed previously by union representatives. Asked if the current piece of legislation was filed on behalf of the union, Mr. Lamson said, "That's my understanding."
The bill would expand the authority board from five to six members, adding the Secretary of Transportation or a designee. The weighted vote of the Vineyard and Nantucket members, now 35 percent, would be reduced to 30 percent. The port council would also be expanded from five to six members.
Rep. Joseph F. Wagner, Rep. Mathew C. Patrick of Falmouth and Rep. Cleon H. Turner of Barnstable filed the bill, entitled, "An act relative to the Coordination of Intermodal Assets in the Commonwealth."
Senator Robert O'Leary of Barnstable, who represents the Cape and Islands, said he opposed a similar bill last year and would oppose the proposed bill. "I don't think we should be reorganizing the Steamship Authority because there is a contract dispute," Mr. O'Leary said in a telephone conversation yesterday. "I think that's not an appropriate way to conduct business."
Despite his position, Mr. O'Leary said the fact that it was filed and backed by several Cape Cod legislators, means it might gather some muster. "I think people in Boston don't quite understand where the curve is on the ball on these things," Mr. O'Leary said. "They don't understand the nuances that are playing out here. What we all need to recognize is the importance of the Island having a significant voice in the operation of, arguably, its lifeline."
State representative Eric Turkington of Falmouth, who represents Falmouth and the Islands, said the bill was filed in order to bring attention to the two unions who have yet to come to an agreement with the SSA on their contract.
"I think their intent is to draw attention to their issues and their negotiation by stirring it up," Mr. Turkington said. "We went through a laborious and painful process regarding the Steamship Authority board in the recent past and I have no interest in opening that conversation."
Mr. Turkington expressed irritation about the reemergence of the issue, and said he has heard little in the way of interest or support for the bill.
The SSA and the Marine Engineering Beneficial Association (MEBA) have been unable to agree on a contract for more than four years.
Last year a union-backed bill emerged in the Senate that would have amended the SSA's enabling legislation by inserting language that declared that authority and union representatives must engage the services of a single state arbitrator when both sides are engaged in an impasse of more than five months in a dispute over wages, hours, and conditions of employment. The bill's sponsor was Senator Marc Pacheco of Taunton, a strong union supporter.
Prior to that, Senator Pacheco was also responsible for a bill that would have added two state appointees to the SSA board, eliminating the islands' majority control.