Some Washington State Ferries employees speak on not meeting state's vaccine mandate deadline

Washington State Ferries customers waited in long lines for their sailings Monday due to a staff shortage. Passengers for the Edmonds-Kingston ferry waited about two hours at the terminal, while passengers for the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry waited about 90 minutes.

WSF is already dealing with a staff shortage and could lose additional employees who did not meet the October 18 COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadline for all state employees. Some passengers said they worried Monday’s long lines were a sign of wait times getting longer with the threat of less workers on the vessel.

"I don’t think it’s fair that people who are trying to get to work or trying to get to places that they need to be would have to wait that long. I can definitely understand why people would be extremely frustrated," said Lillian Brennan, who uses the ferry system in Edmonds.

Luke Freimark was a deck hand at the Mukilteo Terminal. He said three and a half years of working for WSF ended Monday afternoon because he did not get the COVID-19 vaccine.

"My boss had me bring in my badge and my keys and that’s all she wrote. That was my last shift," said Freimark. "I feel pretty sad. I’m in a grief process. I intended on working here for the rest of my life until I retired. And it just makes me sad that it’s not going to be a reality."

Some of his coworkers at the Mukilteo Terminal said they will also be out of a job for not getting the vaccine. Chris Anderson was a deck hand with WSF since 2015. He said he is disappointed it has come to this.

"We’ve been in this pandemic for over 18 months and we’ve all risen up to the cause to keep providing this essential service—whether we’ve been working overtime or we’ve been coming in on our days off. And the constant changes in procedures and safety measures we’ve all adapted. But this is going to really hurt the system and it’s going to hurt the crew members that have chosen to get vaccinated," said Anderson.

"I’m just disappointed at what seems like a failure in management—and this has been coming around for a while—is now being blamed on us on employers who are refusing to take the vaccine," said Freimark.

Ian Sterling, spokesperson for WSF, said a vast majority of employees have reported their vaccine verification. He explained they’re still waiting to learn from about 200 staff members.

"We’ll find out over the coming days and weeks what their intentions are—whether they intend to leave state service or whether they’ll stay on with us," said Sterling.

The spokesperson said it’s still too early to tell how the potential of losing more employees could impact WSF’s ongoing staff shortage. To avoid long waits and cancelled sails, WSF recently changed its fall schedule to offer passengers more predictability.

"It’s demoralizing for crews to not have enough people to move people back and forth across the Sound. But that’s a situation that we’ve been in for the better part of this last year," said Sterling. "Everybody basically is after the same small pool of qualified applicants and so we’ve had difficulties hiring."

RELATED: Police Officers Guild: Emergency response times will suffer due to vaccine mandate

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Temporary ferry schedule changes starting Oct. 16 due to severe staff shortages

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