by Amanda Witherell
Seven protesters were disarmed of their placards and arrested Sunday when they crossed from public to private property at Pier 33 1/2. Arrests have been made for two weekends in a row as dozens of protesting union employees have continued to gather on the Embarcadero in front of the pier, which is the new launch and ticketing station for the ferry service to Alcatraz Island.
Signs that read "get a refund" and voices that shouted "don't go on the boat" continued to pierce the air as two dozen police officers and a bevy of private security held back the protesters to let the paddy wagon through. At the outskirts of the crowd, union members spoke with visitors queuing in front of the ticket kiosk, trying to convince them to boycott the ferry and spend their tourist dollars more responsibly.
The seven were taken into custody for entering the landing area without invitations or tickets to ride the ferry. Though owned by the city and patrolled by the Port, the pier is leased to Hornblower Cruises and considered private property. Terry MacRae, owner of the ferry service, will be pressing charges.
The protests were organized when the National Park Service contract to provide transportation to the island changed hands from Blue and Gold Ferries to Hornblower Cruises on September 25. SInce then, dozens of laid off non-union employees have been joined by representatives from the Inland Boatmen's Union and International Longshore and Warehouseman's Union to protest against Hornblower's hiring practices and claim discrimination.
Hornblower owner, MacRae, and Brian O'Neill, of the National Park Service, said at a Port Commission meeting that anyone who applied for a job with Alcatraz Cruises would be interviewed, said Captain Andy Miller. "I haven't been interviewed. I haven't been called," said Miller, who has 17 years experience with the ferry service and applied for a position with Hornblower to keep his job.
Alcatraz Cruises, as the new ferry service is called, is still hiring between 10 and 15 positions, according to spokesperson Tegan Firth. She said interviews are ongoing and approximately 8 former Blue and Gold employees have been hired.
The protesters say that's not enough, and though Alcatraz Cruises are mandated to pay the same wages that union employees make, criticism has been pointed at a history of discouraging organization amongst employees on its local dining cruise operation. "Part of the issue is what they're looking for is something we don't have control over, " said Firth. "It's always been our policy to let employees decide to unionize," said Firth. Prior efforts to organize Hornblower's crews have failed.
Some tourists have responded to the protests and requested refunds, though not enough to concern Firth too much. She did admit the protests made for an intimidating entrance to the Alcatraz experience. "It's not a pleasant setting," she said. "Obviously we don't want any visitors to be encountered by this, but we don't have any control."
Meetings between union and Hornblower representatives were organized by Mayor Gavin Newsom's office and Rep. Nancy Pelosi's office, but communications eroded last week and no future negotiations are planned.
The out of work deckhands and soon to be laid off captains liken the situation to the recently resolved hotel strikes, and say they will continue to fight for the right to be considered for the jobs. "I have an application in, but they haven't called me," said Castro Inocencio, a non-union former Blue and Gold employee who did maintenance on the island for seventeen years. From a worn, manilla envelope he pulled out a crisp, clean copy of his application and shrugged as he pointed to his credentials.