SAN JUAN, Wash. - A mix of challenges is triggering an unprecedented notice from Washington State Ferries ahead of Labor Day weekend.
"First time we’ve had to send out a note ahead of time to say ‘look, we don’t think we will make all the sailings we normally would,’" Ian Sterling with Washington State Ferries said.
WSF says they are temporarily suspending reservations for several routes in anticipation of staffing shortages.
"We are already tight, dispatch people at WSF make hundreds of calls per day trying to fill ships," Dan Twohig with International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots said.
In mid-August, a letter from WSF leadership said 91 workers at one time requested time off.
Sterling says there is no evidence showing that any of those 91 workers were protesting the state’s vaccine mandate. But there are still rumors swirling now that some could be planning sickouts this holiday weekend angry over the vaccine requirement.
"Masters, Mates & Pilots do not sanction or condone any such behavior," Twohig said.
Both union leaders and WSF reminding workers that sickouts are not legal under their contracts.
Twohig says unions are currently bargaining with WSF on how to implement the vaccine mandate.
"Our legal team told us vaccine mandates are legal and so we accept the fact that they are legal," Twohig said.
The union says they do not know how many WSF workers are unvaccinated. Right now, dozens of workers are out due to COVID exposure or quarantine.
It’s been tough since last spring with the maritime industry facing a global shortage of specialized workers.
Before the pandemic, WSF would have to cancel a couple of trips per month but now they are averaging around 30 trip cancelations.
"We are hopeful that will remain rumors it will be a tough weekend as it is," Sterling said.
Whether or not the sickout rumors have merit, people in the San Juan Islands are already feeling the impact.
"We took a handful of cancelations last night," Laura Saccio said.
Saccio owns Earthbox Inn and Spa and Bird Rock Hotel in the San Juan Islands. She fears more cancelations are coming for a weekend they wait for all year long.
"Unfortunately sometimes the hype about it turns a lot of people away and it ends up being an issue, those of us on the island suffer a lot from the hype about it," Saccio said.
Saccio is pleading for no sickouts because outside tourism the ferry system is the highway for locals who live in island communities.
"Any fallout from this could impact thousands not just of tourist vacations but real livelihood for those of us who depend on it. That ferry system is the lifeline to all the services that we don’t have on the island," Saccio said.
Saccio is hoping that people will still travel this weekend even if it may take longer than usual.
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