News

Ferry food service gets brief reprieve

Lorraine Stromberg has been working the food counter on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry run for five years. Tuesday she pondered her future, as Washington State Ferries and Maryland-based food vendor Sodexho worked to reach an agreement to extend services into the New Year.

Late Tuesday afternoon ferry, spokeswoman Pat Patterson said the two sides had not been able to reach a long-term agreement, but that food service would continue as is for another two weeks.

The ferry system had proposed extending the Sodexho contract for a full year, but the food vendor declined the offer at this time. Patterson said negotiations will continue.

“Our proposal to Sodexho for on-board food services allows the continuation of food service for the majority of our customers and the continuation of family-wage jobs for the majority of the galley workers,” Mike Thorne, ferries CEO said in a written statement.

The ferry system proposal would not be good news for all routes. Under the offer, only three routes would maintain full service galleys: the Seattle-Bremerton, Seattle-Bainbridge Island and Edmonds-Kingston runs.

Galley service would be available during peak ridership season on the San Juan Islands and Sidney, B.C. routes, but would not be continued on the Port Townsend-Keystone or Mukilteo-Clinton routes.

Riders on the 8 a.m. Clinton-Mukilteo run Tuesday lined up for what would be nearly their last cup of morning coffee on the ferry. They were not happy to hear food service might end the next day.

“It would be horrible if they shut it down,” Randy Wilcox, who grew up riding the ferry across to the mainland, said. “It’s an institution — although it’s not always the best food.”

Bill Jamison visits Whidbey Island about once a month, flying from New Jersey on business.

“I better be able to get my coffee,” he said. “It’s a nice feature, I look forward to it.”

Sodexho has agreed to run the vending machines on the ferries, but that didn’t cut it for Jamison, who prefers the fresh brewed Starbucks ferry riders have grown accustomed to.

He was particularly chagrined at the impending closure because he had just discovered that the ferries carried Ivar’s clam chowder, another Northwest institution.

Whidbey Islander Dan Haggard rides the ferry almost every day, and sees food service on the system as “a part of life.”

“I don’t eat, I just get coffee,” he said, holding a steaming 16 ounce cup of the beverage, “but I see the tourists use it a lot.”

Sodexho announced this summer it would not be renewing its contract which ended in October, citing declining revenue on many runs. The two sides were able to work out an extension until Dec. 31, but were unable to reach an agreement for services beyond that.

The change won’t be felt for awhile on the Keystone-Port Townsend ferry run, as food service on that route always closes for the winter due to reduced sailings and passengers.

The move would significantly reduce the food service workforce which, in a last ditch effort to save their jobs, voted overwhelmingly last week to accept cuts in work hours and a freeze on future raises.

As Inlandboatmen Union members, ferry food workers make significantly more than their land-based counterparts. A mediator for the union and ferry system ruled earlier this month that future contractors must keep their workers union as well.

The union had no comment on Tuesday’s negotiations, and how that would affect their wage reduction proposal.

The ferry system is still seeking potential vendors, who may submit Letters of Intent to Propose to the ferry system by Jan. 9, 2004.

Thorne called the one-year extension proposal a winner for state taxpayers, as they will not be expected to subsidize food service on the ferries.

As a Tina Turner CD wailed in the M.V. Kittitas galley Tuesday, food service worker Stromberg considered her options, and tried to remain upbeat.

“If I’m laid off, I might go back to school, or make a career change.” She brightened as an idea hit her, possibly inspired by the musical accompaniment.

“I could be the next American Idol,” she said as she made change for a customer. “You gotta look at the lighter side.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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