Casting off - Page 4

New Alcatraz ferry service leaves unions, environmentalists, and city officials fuming on the dock

We have a CEQA lawsuit and then the Board of Supervisors shuts down the Alcatraz ferry service? They've managed to start up service without acquiring a single permit. Kudos to them for strategy."
Citizens to Save the Waterfront then dropped its lawsuit, feeling it was weakened by the BCDC decision.
"Essentially, now there's a turf war between Bush's park service and the Port of San Francisco," Golinger said. "BCDC tried to avoid getting involved, but the precedent it sets is horrible. A corporation can come in and skirt any planning process."
After scoring the Alcatraz bid, Hornblower sought an exemption to the Service Contract Act of 1965 that would have required MacRae to pay equal to or more than what current crew make. But the Department of Labor ruled Sept. 21 against Hornblower. So veteran Blue and Gold crew have added safety to their concerns.
"I've made tens of thousands of landings on Alcatraz Island, and now they have captains who have never been there," Capt. Andy Miller said. For 17 years, Miller has navigated the busy shipping lanes and the constant summer fog against the tugging tide and the sudden slams of inclement weather to bring tourists, park service staff, and supplies to the island.
"No one's ever gotten hurt. It's a very tricky place to land a boat. It takes skill and experience that you can't just hire off the street," he said.
Miller said he applied for a job with Hornblower but was not interviewed. So far, no captains and only three ticket agents and a deckhand have been hired from Blue and Gold's former fleet.
"We have a ready workforce," Master, Mate, and Pilot union spokesperson Veronica Sanchez said. "They're going to have to be paid the same wages as union workers at Blue and Gold. They don't want to be a union shop. Why don't you want to be a union shop on a union waterfront like San Francisco?"
One reason could be concern that it might bump up costs for Hornblower’s other tour operations. "They want us to agree that if we sign up our workers for Alcatraz, that we won't organize the dining yachts," Sanchez said. In 1998, the union attempted to organize Hornblower's dinner cruise operations in San Francisco but didn't prevail in a supervised election.
MacRae said he's not opposed to the unions and he's encouraged the Blue and Gold staff to apply for jobs. "The unionization is the choice of the workers," he said. "We try to let the employees make the choices. Last time I checked, that's who the unions represent."
"We want to make sure we have the best crew," he said. "Many of the products and guest services we provide aren't what Blue and Gold do now." He added that some current employees from the dining cruises have also been shifted to the Alcatraz route.
"I've been here 21 years, and we've been replaced by busboys and waiters," said deckhand Robert Estrada, standing with fellow workers outside the gate of the new Alcatraz ferry service.
Estrada said Hornblower's reliance on part-time, low-wage workers has earned the company the nickname "the Wal-Mart of the Water." The company's rapid expansion, from a two-boat Berkeley-based charter to a multinational fleet with government contracts is a similar characteristic.
Blue and Gold spokesperson Alicia Vargas assured us that the remaining ferry services to Alameda, Angel Island, Oakland, Sausalito, Tiburon, and Vallejo will be solvent, but some of the veteran crew who haven't been laid off yet are worried this is the beginning of the end.
"The public needs to be warned. If funds don't come from Alcatraz, Blue and Gold could fold," said David Heran, an International Boatmen's Union member and deckhand since 1974 who applied to Hornblower but wasn't hired. "I'm not ready to retire yet, and this wasn't the way I was expecting it to happen." SFBG