SSA deck hands vote to accept contract
Members of the Marine Engineering Beneficial Association (MEBA) voted last week to accept a contract offer from the Steamship Authority (SSA).
The vote followed more than three years of often bitter contract negotiations between the boatline and representatives of its largest union and was preceded by a membership vote last month to reject virtually the same contract.
The contract affects 170 unlicensed vessel employees represented by MEBA. The SSA has yet to reach an agreement with the boatline's licensed engineers, also represented by MEBA.
Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, said he received a telephone call Friday night that union members voted 85 to 50 to accept the contract.
Mr. Lamson said he did not know what was responsible for the change of heart. But both votes took place against a backdrop of roiled union politics.
MEBA President Ron Davis had raised questions about the contract prior to the earlier vote. Mr. Lamson said that Mr. Davis then participated in a work session and appeared satisfied.
Mr. Davis was critical of Don Keefe, MEBA Atlantic coast vice president, and the man responsible for seeing the contract through to a conclusion. Mr. Keefe is running against Mr. Davis for presidency of the union.
Those tensions were evident in a letter Mr. Davis sent to Mr. Keefe, dated June 15, 2007, the same day the SSA announced an agreement with MEBA had been reached. Mr. Davis expressed his unhappiness with the length of time it was taking to reach a contract and the costs of legal work performed by lawyer Mark Kaplan.
He wrote, "Total payments by MEBA to Mark Kaplan from 2004 to the present amount to $339,950. Additionally, there appear to be $16,850 in recent invoices payable to Mr. Kaplan as of the date of this letter.... From my perspective, it is essential that we devise a new plan that will allow our union to successfully reach an agreement with the Steamship Authority without use of expensive legal resources that, at least to this point, have not yielded obvious success."
In a letter sent to the union membership dated June 28, Mr. Davis said that Mr. Keefe had not provided him with information on the contract negotiations and raised questions about the process leading to the contract. Mr. Davis urged union members to contact him directly.
Two weeks later the union membership rejected the contract.
Meanwhile, the SSA has been unable to reach agreement with its 27 licensed engineers, Mr. Lamson said on Tuesday. He said that management has had difficulty getting needed information from the union and those negotiations will now enter a fact-finding phase.
The SSA board is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to vote on the contract for the unlicensed deck hands. Marc Hanover, Vineyard SSA member, said that he expects the board to ratify the contract. "I am pleased this is behind us and hopefully we can get the engineers to agree to a contract," he said.
Mr. Hanover said the unlicensed deck hands had agreed to some concessions on manning levels and would now contribute five percent toward the cost of health insurance. He said, "That is very fair, particularly when compared with state workers who have to contribute 50 percent."