New York

Staten Island ferry delays due to crew shortage, says union

A Staten Island ferry service meltdown that stranded thousands of passengers in lower Manhattan this week was more than a decade in the making, said officials at the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, the union that represents the bulk of the ferry’s workforce.

A long-festering staff shortage sparked by high rates of attrition made the kerfuffle inevitable, said MEBA spokeswoman Carolyn Daly.

“Our staff is down 20%, which means if one or two people call in sick you don’t have enough people with Coast Guard certifications to operate the vessels,” said Daly. “We can’t just pull mermaids out of the harbor and get them to operate the ferry.”

The standstill came to a head Wednesday, when according to city officials nearly half the captains scheduled to run ferry boats didn’t show up for work.

Ferry boats ran every hour during the evening rush instead of every 15 to 20 minutes as scheduled. Thousands were packed inside Whitehall Terminal trying to get on a boat on Wednesday, while others scrambled to board express buses and smaller NYC Ferry boats.

Service returned to near normal on Thursday, but the staffing issues threaten more headaches for ferry riders, Daly said.

MEBA hasn’t had a new contract with the city since 2010, when Michael Bloomberg was mayor. Since then, the number of people represented by the workforce has shrunk from more than 160 to 124, according to MEBA secretary-treasurer Roland Rexha.

Officials under former Mayor Bill de Blasio last met with MEBA on Nov. 30, 2016, and the city didn’t return to the table until Mayor Adams took office.

Adams during a news conference Thursday described the contract negotiations with MEBA as “something I inherited.”

“It was brought to my attention yesterday, and we are going to try to resolve the issues so that our Staten Islanders are not denied their services,” Adams said.

Rexha said MEBA has met with city officials twice since Adams took office, most recently on May 26. That session followed a five-year negotiating freeze during the de Blasio administration, which last met with the union to bargain on Nov. 30, 2016.

“I can understand you’re short of staff, but they’ve got to get it together because I’ve never seen rush hour boats run only every hour,” said Lawrence Wagner, 40, who commutes on the ferry five days a week.

“It’s better today, but even in the morning there have been problems,” Wagner said Thursday. “I need to catch the 5 a.m. ferry. A lot of days lately it just doesn’t show up.”

Daly said she was hopeful the city gets back to the table soon — and wondered why the city’s Staten Island Ferry management team didn’t alert the mayor to the staffing and contract problems. She was concerned over the mayor’s comments on Wednesday, which hinted the union engaged in an illegal job action.

“Blaming the workers is as shallow as it gets,” said Daly. “We’ve just been floating in the harbor, waiting for a life raft, and we’re not getting one.”

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