Casco Bay Lines union 'reluctantly' agrees to contract in Portland

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PORTLAND — It took more than two years, but Casco Bay Lines and its unionized employees have reached an agreement on a three-year contract.

The two sides were deadlocked over issues like wage increases and health insurance when the dispute went to arbitration.

The arbitrator issued a report outlining a compromise that was approved by the Casco Bay Island Transit District Board of Directors in late March.

President William Harrigan said members of United Marine Division Local 133 of the AFL-CIO “reluctantly” agreed to the contract provisions laid out in the arbitrator’s report. The workers approved the contract by only two votes, he said.

“We approved the deal not because it is a fair one for our hardworking members, but simply to put this chapter behind us and move forward,” Harrigan said.

He said the contract gives the workers a 1 percent signing bonus. They will receive no pay raise for 2009, a 1 percent increase for 2010 and a 2 percent raise in 2011.

But Harrigan said the contract maintains a sunset provision for health care.

During the regular term of the contract, Harrigan said management and workers evenly split the cost of any health increases. But after the contract expires and during negotiations, the workers must pick up 100 percent of those costs.

Harrigan said Casco Bay Lines will reimburse the workers for those costs. He said the contract provision is unlike any other public sector contract, which remains in force until a new agreement is produced.

“That sunset clause needs to be corrected,” he said. “It’s a tool used against (the union), it puts pressure on the guys and it’s unfair in the public sector.”

Harrigan said the union also sought more in wage increases, since workers handle freight in addition to docking boats, which should classify them as longshoremen, rather than deck hands.

The new contract will expire on March 15, 2012. Harrigan said the two sides have not set a date to begin negotiations.

“Hopefully, we can start off on the right foot,” Harrigan said. “We will continue to push for fair treatment at the bargaining table and on other fronts.”

Casco Bay Lines Executive Director Hank Berg could not be reached on Tuesday.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.