Log in Subscribe

A few of our stories and columns are now in front of the paywall. We at The Chief-Leader remain committed to independent reporting on labor and civil service. It's been our mission since 1897. You can have a hand in ensuring that our reporting remains relevant in the decades to come. Consider supporting The Chief, which you can do for as little as $3.20 a month.

S.I. Ferry engineers entitled to prevailing wages, comptroller finds

Preliminary decision could impact ongoing contract talks


In another step towards parity for Staten Island Ferry engineers, the City Comptroller’s office determined in a preliminary decision that the marine engineers should be paid wages comparable to other mariners in the New York City area.

In August, Administrative Law Judge Faye Lewis found that the engineers perform the same tasks and have the same licensing requirements as Maersk engineers working on U.S.-flagged cargo ships. Maersk engineers earn about $88 an hour while working in the New York Harbor — nearly double what Staten Island Ferry chief marine engineers get paid, according to the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, which represents 150 crew members running the ferries. 

MEBA filed a complaint with the comptroller’s office in 2018 to determine a prevailing rate for S.I. Ferry marine engineers. The comptroller’s office initially determined that the engineers performed work that was comparable to watch engineers at Penn South, but after MEBA objected, the matter was brought to the city Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.

In his Oct. 27 preliminary decision, Comptroller Brad Lander agreed with the ALJ’s findings that the ferry engineers performed the same work as Maersk engineers, but noted that further information was necessary to calculate a specific prevailing rate.

More data needed

Under state labor laws, prevailing wage rates are based upon collectively bargained wages paid by private-sector employers that employ at least 30 percent of the workers in the same trade or occupation in the city. But the comptroller’s preliminary decision found that “the record does not conclusively establish that the Maersk CBA covers at least 30 percent of the workers in the same trade or occupation in New York City, as required by New York Labor Law.” 

Lander called on MEBA, the Office of Labor Relations and the his office’s Bureau of Labor Law to provide analysis within 30 days indicating whether the Maersk contract covers at least 30 percent of marine engineers in the area, and if not, to provide other information that could help determine the average wage that should be paid to S.I. Ferry engineers.

“Engineers on the Staten Island Ferry are entitled to fair pay from the City of New York, in accordance with prevailing private sector rates. I have asked the parties to come back with additional information they believe we should consider in determining the appropriate prevailing wage rate for these workers,” Lander said in a statement.

MEBA’s secretary-treasurer, Roland “Rex” Rexha said that the union was “encouraged by Comptroller Lander's interim decision that our professional mariners onboard the Staten Island Ferry are entitled to a prevailing wage and that he agrees with OATH ALJ Judge Lewis's factual findings that our workers should be on par with the same mariner classifications onboard private sector container ships.”  

He continued, “Our hard-working, dedicated ferry crew deserve much greater respect and admiration for continuing their essential service to the City of New York despite the disrespect and neglect demonstrated by the current and former Department of Transportation in their failure to offer a fair and equitable labor contract. It is time to right this ship and give our members the contract and professional mariner wages they so deeply deserve.”

In a statement, a City Hall spokesperson said that “we are reviewing the Comptroller’s order. We continue to work in mediation with the union, and are hopeful we will reach a settlement with the mediator’s assistance.”

The findings could impact bargaining between MEBA and the city. The union’s contract expired 12 years ago and crews have not received raises since 2009. Although the city and MEBA have recently agreed to have a mediator present during contract negotiations, an agreement has yet to be reached.

The stalled negotiations were spotlighted this summer after Staten Island Ferry riders experienced severe disruptions attributable to a large number of crew calling out sick. About 75,000 New Yorkers ride the ferry each day.

Mayor Eric Adams implied the crews were engaged in a sickout over the contract dispute, a claim that MEBA vehemently denied. Rexha noted that the crew was “overworked and understaffed.”

To address short-staffing, the Department of Transportation wants to create an apprenticeship program for marine oilers, the title with the highest vacancy rate. At an Oct. 25 community meeting, Captain John Garvey, DOT’s deputy commissioner for ferries and chief operating officer of the Staten Island Ferry, said that DOT hopes to launch the nine-month program next September, the Staten Island Advance reported.

DOT spokesperson Mona Bruno said in a statement that “we are working to develop the Marine Oiler Trainee program and are confident these positions would provide essential training and strengthen our ferry workforce.”

In order for DOT to hire these trainees, first DCAS would have to create the new title of marine oilers apprentice and would need to eliminate the two-year experience requirement for marine oilers. MEBA would also have to approve the apprenticeship program.

“We believe that the time required in order to attain the license should be sufficient for us to take them and then orientate them on our vessels,” Garvey said. “Then we’ll be able to start having a regular thing where marine oilers can be cultivated right at the ferry.”



No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here