Casco Bay Lines union workers plan Portland protest for new contract

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PORTLAND — Casco Bay Lines employees will rally Friday to express their frustration about working for more than a year without a contract.

The ferry service has 34 employees – all but four top-level managers – who are members of Local 333 of the International Longshoreman’s Association. Bill Harrigan, a Portland native who is president of the New York-based union, said the union has officially reached an impasse with management and an outside negotiator.

“This has dragged on and on,” Harrigan said. “We’re just so far apart.”

Negotiations will now be handed off to the state for arbitration.

According to Harrigan, management has suggested contract terms during the past year that are “unrealistic,” including an early proposal to cut union employee salaries by 5 percent. The most recent offer from management, he said, was a zero percent pay increase for last year and this year and a 1 percent increase in 2011.

“These guys are making $13 an hour, and paying as much as $400 for family insurance,” said Harrigan. “I can’t take a zero percent increase out to them.”

Local 333 members in New York, he said, have 2 to 3 percent contracted increases. The union represents 2,100 ferry and tugboat workers in cities including New York, Philadelphia and Portland.

Casco Bay Lines General Manager Hank Berg said both sides have agreed to go to arbitration.

“These are great employees and we respect their right to free speech,” Berg said. “Difficult times cause difficult bargaining.”

Berg, who became general manager in January, said for the first time in eight years it appears the ferry service will close its fiscal year this month “in the black.”

“It’s turning around,” Berg said. “But the debt that has accumulated needs to be paid.”

Casco Bay Lines serves Peaks Island, Great Diamond Island, Little Diamond Island, Chebeague Island, Long Island and Cliff Island. It also runs seasonal cruises.

The union rally is scheduled for Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in front of the Casco Bay Parking Garage on Commercial Street.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or