Sick Struggle: Washington Ferry Workers Fight for ‘Vomit Pay’

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We bet every Washington State ferry worker wished they had known this: They can earn double-time if they clean up vomit. Or bird feces. Yup, consider it hazard pay. But not if State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, gets her wish during union bargaining.

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Haugen tells The Herald of Everett, Wash., that she wants to eliminate the “vomit clause.” She says if prison guards who clean up after inmates or nurses cleaning up after patients don’t get special pay, ferry workers shouldn’t either. After all, ferry workers get paid quite well already, better than those same prison guards and even the Washington State Patrol.

Of course, the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (read: union) says the extra pay should stick around. They say extra cash simply goes to those working with dangerous materials and hazardous substances and often compensates workers for their expertise in certain areas.

But with the nation’s largest ferry system, cutting costs from the agency has become Haugen’s mission. By chopping the clause that gives workers more money for cleaning up anything from vomit to bird feces—you can bet there’s a bit of that on the 23 ferry vessels—Haugen wants to help trim the state budget.

Last year, the state paid $1.65 million under the 50-year-old “penalty pay” clause to five different ferry-worker unions. And while very little was actually for vomit, any one of 21 situations induces penalty pay. Who knew vomit could be so lucrative?

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