Washington States Ferries' staff have a vomit clause to cover just this situation. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Rodasmith/Wikipedia)

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, hazard pay is defined as “additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship,” where duty that causes “extreme physical discomfort and distress not adequately alleviated by protective devices” is considered to impose a physical hardship. Workers on Washington State Ferries have enjoyed a special kind of hazard pay for years called “vomit pay.” Now Democratic Sen. Margaret Haugen believes it’s time for union ferry workers to give up the “vomit clause” in their contracts for the sake of state coffers.

The vomit clause calls for double-time pay

Washington State Ferries have a reputation for cleanliness, and seasick passengers have yet to besmirch that record. Yet double-time pay for cleaning up parbreak (aka vomit) is costing the state of Washington too much, says Haugen.

“That’s one that really stuck in my craw,” Haugen told HeraldNet. “We certainly don’t give overtime to some prison guard who cleans up after an inmate or someone working in a mental institution or even someone who worked caring for a person at their home and had to do an unpleasant task.”

Washington ferry workers object to Sen. Haugen’s blanket condemnation, particularly since hazardous vomit pay applies to a variety of situations, including cleaning the bilges, pumping sewage, and mopping up blood, feces and vomit.

“That is in there for a reason,” said David Williams of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association union. “We have to clean it up and smile about it.”

Washington State Ferries is broke

The nation’s largest waterborne transportation system, Washington State Ferries carried nearly 23 million passengers across the waters of Puget Sound in 2010 with its 23-vessel fleet. It’s also the only ferry system in the world that has never had a passenger fatality. Despite the fact that fares cover almost 70 percent of operating costs, the organization is currently broke and in need of additional taxpayer dollar to remain afloat.

Unfortunately, what legislators see are high-salaried ferry workers whom they believe should not be making double-time for mopping up puke. However, union representatives insist that such employees represent only a small minority of the Washington State Ferries workforce.

“I blame us for allowing that perception to be out there,” said union lobbyist Gordon Baxter. “We should have responded more forcefully, with more facts.”

Cleaning up the vomit clause

Proposed changes to ferry worker contracts – changes Gov. Christine Gregoire called “historic sacrifices” – would reduce salaries by 3 percent, make overtime time-and-a-half and shrink crew size on some routes.

Yet Sen. Haugen is insistent that the vomit clause be removed so that ferry worker wages fall more in line with those of other state workers. No more “penalty pay” for cleaning up vomit, bird droppings and human excrement, says the Senator. Washington State Ferries paid $1.65 million in penalty pay in 2010 to union and non-union workers, and Haugen believes enough is enough.

Sources

HeraldNet: http://heraldnet.com/article/20110320/NEWS01/703209926
U.S. Department of Labor: http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/wages/hazardpay.htm
Washington State Labor Relations Office: Collective Bargaining Agreements 2009-2011: http://www.ofm.wa.gov/labor/agreements/09-11/default.asp

Emetophobics, beware (There will be vomit)

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