Support Steamship workers


To the Editor:

I am writing in support of the Steamship Authority workers in their continued negotiations to receive a fair contract. As a commuter, I feel I am in a perfect position to see and comment on the exemplary nature of the SSA employees. I have sent a copy of this letter to the Steamship Authority Board, The Martha’s Vineyard Times, the Cape Cod Times, and the Inquirer and Mirror of Nantucket.
As someone who depends on the ferry service to commute to my job as a special education teacher in a high-need district, their kindness, reliability, and understanding has enabled me to stay at a position I love, despite living on an Island. The Steamship Authority has been my lifeline through the past eight years, and this is solely due to the kindness of both the dedicated seamen aboard the ships and the dockworkers in both Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven.
While it seems humorous to state, I feel obliged to say that I am not a punctual person, and I am often rushing across the parking lot at 5:58 am. I am aware that this could appear both irritating and disrespectful to the employees. However, they have never made me feel this way — they often joke that they know it is time to go when I arrive. My point in sharing this is that while I am sure my behavior can be irksome at times, they have never been anything but kind and respectful.
When I began commuting, I was a single person, and had a lot of freedom in terms of my commute. Eight years later, I have commuted through two full pregnancies and returns to work with a newborn. I have brought students to Martha’s Vineyard, and they were treated with immense kindness by the SSA employees. They were given a tour of the boat, and shown the steering room. The dockworkers in Vineyard Haven even took pictures of our group.
When I had my daughter seven years ago, I was floored by how accommodating the employees were. When she was an infant, I was unable to secure childcare on Martha’s Vineyard due to the widely noted shortage, and she traveled with me. I could spend pages writing about every time I rushed to a boat and they offered to carry her carseat, or how many employees remember my daughter’s name and ask after her to this day. Additionally, in her last year of preschool, she commuted with me one day a week, and looked forward to seeing her “friends” on the boat. As a parent, I can tell you it was invaluable at the end of a busy day to sit down and relax while they chatted with her. And while I have not had to commute with my 1-year-old son, they often ask after him, and are very understanding of what it is like to commute as a mother of two.
One of the reasons I chose to write this letter was learning of the intense schedule they are required to maintain. In his released statement, Teamsters Local 59 president and business representative Jeff Sharp states that the primary concern of the employees is this scheduling. Deck officers are required to work 18 hours during a 24-hour period. He continues to state, “Working beyond 18 hours in a 24-hour period poses a serious safety threat to workers and passengers alike. Industry standard for maritime workers is a 12-hour limit during a 24-hour period.” Additionally, employees that are allowed to leave the vessel after the last run of the night are required to return extremely early, and often sleep on the ferry. This time is unpaid. This seems especially unfair, when the majority of the seamen do not live on Martha’s Vineyard and would have nowhere to go if they were to leave the mooring. Furthermore, the seamen’s unfair hours are due to a 20-year-old waiver granted by the Coast Guard that was meant to be a temporary measure. This policy obviously requires updating.
Many of the locals and visitors to both Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are complaining about the recently announced restrictions to the ferry schedule. We are told that this is due to staffing. While the backlog for certifications by the Coast Guard is a factor in this deficit, so is the inability of the Steamship Authority to update their practices to become a more desirable employer. Sharp states, “With often only having six hours off the clock, it has been extremely difficult to attract new hires and maintain current staffing levels.” I think it is common sense to state that in a marketplace where nautical workers are in high demand, the Steamship Authority should, in turn, offer favorable conditions in order to attract and retain the best employees.
At times, it can seem like the Steamship Authority is a popular scapegoat on the Cape and Islands. However, when we dissect a lot of these complaints, the fault very rarely lies with the employees we see as residents, visitors, and commuters. As stated in this letter, for myself and many others, their hard work enriches our lives in ways we don’t even realize or fully appreciate. I think we are united in our desire for the least problematic transport between the Cape and Islands. With this in mind, the most vital step in this is ensuring that the seamen and dockworkers are treated fairly, as they are the true backbone of your organization.

Aislinn Weintraub
West Tisbury