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SSA bill would require binding arbitrationAfter more than three years of often bitter contract negotiations, in August members of the Marine Engineering Beneficial Association (MEBA) voted to accept a contract offer from the Steamship Authority (SSA). The agreement did not stop a legislative skirmish in the State House, however.
Next week the joint committee on public service is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Senate Bill No. 1627 (available here). The union-backed legislation filed by Senator Marc Pacheco of Taunton has circulated in one form or another for more than two years.
It would amend 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 at an impasse of more than five months in a dispute over wages, hours, and conditions of employment.
The contract signed in August affects 170 unlicensed vessel employees represented by MEBA. The SSA has yet to reach an agreement with the boatline's 27 licensed engineers, also represented by MEBA.
In a press release sent Tuesday, Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, said, "For the sake of the Authority's long-term financial stability, as well as the economy of the Islands, the Authority opposes this legislation in the strongest possible terms."
Mr. Lamson said the language of the bill comes from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's enabling act. He wrote, "In exchange for requiring the MBTA to submit its outstanding labor contracts to binding arbitration, the Legislature expressly preserved MBTA's inherent management rights and prohibited any collective bargaining and any collective bargaining agreements that might infringe on any of those rights."
Those broad powers are not now enjoyed by SSA management over its union employees, said Mr. Lamson.
Mr. Lamson said that if the bill is passed the SSA would "receive the worst of both worlds, being required to submit any outstanding collective bargaining issues to binding arbitration, while already having contracted away one of the most significant management rights, namely, the right to develop and determine levels of staffing."
Senator Robert O'Leary of Barnstable, who represents the Cape and Islands, and State representative Eric Turkington of Falmouth, who represents Falmouth and the Islands, have opposed the legislation in the past.
Yesterday, Mr. Turkington and Mr. O'Leary told The Times that the legislation has been filed in the past and gone nowhere. Both lawmakers said they continue to oppose it and would be surprised if any action is taken on the bill.