Several ferry runs in and out of Anacortes were canceled this weekend after staff shortages left the Washington State Ferries crews unable to make the trips.
Dozens of staff members in the system were out with COVID-related issues, including people diagnosed, quarantining and getting vaccinations, according to Ferries spokesperson Dana Warr said. A total of 51 sailings to-and-from Anacortes and between islands were canceled between Sept. 9 and 13.
Several media outlets have reported about threats of a “sickout” in protest of vaccine mandates, and Warr said Ferries administrators are aware of the rumors.
True or not, it is “suspicious” to have several people call in at one time, Warr said. A total of 41 people called out sick between Sept. 9 and 12 system-wide, including 14 on the 10th, 17 on the 11th and 10 on the 12th.
That’s about 2.5% of employees, Warr said. Roughly 620 employees work on the vessels (both on deck and in the engine room) each day.
If people are found to have falsely called in sick, the repercussions are significant, Warr said.
Ferry staffs have been small for some time now, with a shortage of licensed mariners causing frequent ferry delays and interruptions. Part of the issue was training during the height of the COVID lockdown, officials have said.
The good news is the ferry system hired 23 new engine room employees, 74 new deck employees and 60 new terminal employees this year, Warr said.
Four more people are finishing training now, he said.
When someone calls in sick or has an emergency and their space needs to be filled, the call center starts calling other crew members. Last weekend could have been a lot worse with canceled sailings if the crew that was working didn’t scramble to get spots filled. Calls went out to people on vacation or days off, and they came in to help run the boats, Warr said.
“The crews that were there worked hard for our ferry-served communities,” he said.