Union Okays SSA Contract

Unlicensed Deck Hands Ratify Agreement With Management, Reversing Vote from June; Governors Vote Friday

By MIKE SECCOMBE

Some 200 employees of the Steamship Authority have voted to accept a new workplace agreement, substantially unchanged from the one they rejected last month.

The new contract was approved by union members at meetings last Thursday and Friday. It now appears that more than four years of tortuous negotiation are over; Steamship Authority governors have not yet ratified the contract, although they are expected to take a vote at a special boat line meeting set for this Friday in Hyannis. The entire meeting will take place in executive session with collective bargaining the sole item on the agenda.

It is understood there have been only minor changes to the agreement since members rejected it. Sources said there had been amendments to the contract language in three areas, relating to the security of member medical benefits, vacation entitlements and watch hours.

Agreement between the boat line and the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA) on a new contract with some 230 SSA employees was reached June 15 following two days of mediation involving a state-appointed fact finder.

But the deal fell apart in early July, amid internal MEBA ructions. The contract details had been negotiated by a union team led by its Atlantic region vice president Don Keefe, a candidate for the national presidency.

The incumbent president, Ron Davis, promptly wrote to members attacking Mr. Keefe for not passing on information about the negotiations. Mr. Davis questioned the process by which the deal had been made, and asked members to contact him directly about any outstanding concerns.

"Dear brothers and sisters," the letter began. "It is unfortunate that I have to reach out directly to you for information with respect to your bargaining unit."

He went on to say Mr. Keefe had kept him uninformed and had rejected his offers to become directly involved in negotiations. Mr. Davis said he had offered to reshuffle the negotiating team to help relieve tension that may exist between the parties.

In the face of these tensions among their senior leaders, union members rejected the deal.

It is understood the vote was 73-50.

This time around the vote of the unlicensed vessel employees was 85 to 50 in favor of a new contract.

However, contract issues between the boat line and its unions are not over. Contract negotiations are still under way between management and some 25 or 30 licensed engineers. A new process of fact finding involving their claims began last week and could take up to a year to finish.