Union-backed arbitration bill surprises SSA
For the second month in a row, union backed legislation that would significantly affect the Steamship Authority (SSA) surfaced in a committee on Beacon Hill.
The legislation, known as Senate bill 1627, would amend the SSA's enabling legislation by inserting language that declares that authority and union representatives must engage the services of a single state arbitrator when both sides have been unable to agree on the terms of a new contract for more than five months following the expiration of a prior labor contract.
This week the Joint Committee on Public Service decided to postpone a public hearing scheduled today for the bill. A new hearing date is expected in the fall, according to a committee staffer.
Increasingly, Steamship Authority members find themselves casting a wary eye on the political winds blowing about Beacon Hill, where disgruntled boatline union members are actively seeking legislative support to advance their contract goals.
Last month, SSA members were surprised when a bill intended to put the now independent boatline authority within the Executive Office of Transportation suddenly appeared on the state legislature's agenda.
With no announcement in any of the port communities that would be affected, and no discussion by local officials, the Joint Committee on Transportation held a public hearing for House bill No. 3681 on May 17.
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."
SSA officials and elected officials from Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and Barnstable testified in opposition to the bill. William Campbell, representative of the Marine Engineering Beneficial Association (MEBA), which has been unable to agree on a contract for more than four years, testified in favor.
Both bills are similar to legislation introduced last year at the request of the union. Mr. Campbell insists there is no link between the union's legislative efforts and failed contract negotiations.
Senate bill 1627 (available at www.mvtimes.com) is a virtual carbon copy of a bill introduced last year by Senator Marc R. Pacheco of Taunton who is known for his unequivocal support of unions.
Marc Hanover, Vineyard SSA member, said "it is unforgivable" that the boatline must continually make a commitment of time and energy to counter legislation that has its roots in union frustration and would have a negative affect on boatline operations.
Mr. Hanover said the arbitration bill would put absolute power to determine contracts in a single person with no accountability and remove the rights of management. "It is just totally unacceptable," he said.
Mr. Hanover said both bills are backed by lawmakers who have no knowledge or interest in the Cape and Islands or the Steamship Authority.
Cape and Islands Senator Robert O'Leary and Representative Eric Turkington opposed bills introduced last year and spoke in opposition to the House bill at the May 17 hearing.
SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said in a prepared statement that no private companies and almost no public entities are required to submit unresolved contract negotiations to binding arbitration. He said this bill would leave the determination of the SSA's future labor costs "to the judgment of one person who is accountable to no one."
Mr. Lamson said the Senate bill is lifted wholesale from the enabling act of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which was required to submit its contract negotiations to arbitration in 1978 when its labor costs resulted in the MBTA being shut down after exhausting its funding that year. In exchange, the MBTA received specific management rights.
He wrote, "Senate Bill No. 1627 fails to protect the Steamship Authority's management rights, thus giving the Steamship Authority the worst of both worlds under this legislation. The Islands will lose financial and operational control of their boat line."
Mr. Lamson said there is no need for this legislation. He said management has successfully reached agreement with all its other unions except MEBA.