Staten Island

Callouts Severely Disrupt Staten Island Ferry Service

The Staten Island Ferry was limited to an hourly schedule after a slate of sick calls left vessels understaffed, according to officials

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Trying to get to or from Staten Island? Be prepared to wait.

Service on the Staten Island Ferry was limited to an hourly schedule Thursday evening after a slate of sick calls left vessels understaffed, according to officials. The service disruption started around 1 p.m. and was expected to last through the evening, the New York City Department of Transportation said.

The NYC Ferry said it would offer free overnight ferry shuttle service into Friday morning between Pier 11 in Manhattan and the St. George ferry landing on Staten Island. It was not known whether regular Staten Island Ferry service would be restored in time for the morning commute on Friday.

Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella said the disruption "unacceptable and is going to hurt thousands of people unnecessarily.

"By the DOT’s own numbers, the disruption to the twenty-minute rush hour service can result in as many as 2,228 passengers joining the already approximately 600 passengers on the top of the hour service, resulting in a staggering 2,828 passengers in one trip," Fossella said.

The DOT said that the "vast majority" of ferry staffers — captains, assistant captains and mates — scheduled for Thursday afternoon called out sick (a full boat crew includes a captain, assistant captain and three mates). The department added that they were looking into finding alternative travel options between Staten Island and Manhattan.

A city official said there was only enough staff to operate the ferries on an hourly service after all others called out. The off-duty workers eligible for overtime did not answer or return calls from the DOT.

It wasn't immediately clear what caused the surge in sick-out calls from workers, though Fossella told NBC New York that a "long-term labor dispute" between the city and the workers that's "been going on for years" was at the center of it.

"All parties must get back to the negotiating table immediately to resolve this once and for all. If this disruption can happen today, it can happen next week and then the week after that," he said in a statement. "Staten Island commuters are once again suffering from issues over which they have not created nor have control over."

Fossella said that previous stoppages and disruptions came during the late-night hours, but doing one during the evening rush hour during a holiday weekend and Fleet Week creates much bigger headaches. Fossella added that there's "no indication how long this will last."

"This was an intentional effort to disrupt service and it's sad. I'm very sympathetic to the workers and I hope that this was resolved swiftly and smoothly," Fossella said.

In Sept. 2022, the I-Team spoke to ferry workers who sounded alarms about a staffing crisis they say had made it difficult to keep the iconic passenger boats running on time.

The manpower shortage is so severe, current and former ferry workers tell the I-Team they are sometimes asked to spend the night in terminal parking lots or makeshift sleeping quarters because commuting home between shifts would not allow for the minimum rest needed to safely operate the 4,000 ton boats.

“Ferry management has paid people to sleep in their cars for 12 hours to cover a shift the next morning,” said Roland Rexha, Secretary-Treasurer of the Marine Engineers' Benevolent Association (MEBA), the union representing ferry captains, mates, and engineers. “It becomes a safety issue.”

An I-Team review of payroll records shows the New York City Department of Transportation, which operates the Staten Island Ferry, relies heavily on overtime scheduling to keep the boats running.

In 2021, more than two-thirds of ferry workers logged at least 500 hours of overtime. One in five staff members worked more than 1,000 hours of overtime. One Chief Marine Engineer worked 3,187 total hours in 2021. That’s the equivalent of working 61 hours every week for 52 weeks straight. One ferry captain worked 2,857 total hours in 2021, the equivalent of working 357 out of 365 days in the year.

Concerns about the ferry staffing shortage were raised as MEBA and the Mayor Adams administration had been engaged in negotiations on a new collective bargaining contract. The union has gone without a raise for a dozen years.  In Aug. 2022, an administrative judge ruled the city’s marine engineers deserve a raise to put them in line with workers on private cargo ships.

In response to the I-Team, a DOT representative sent an email in September stressing that ferry workers are not allowed to work more than 12 hours per day and some of the ferry’s overtime bill is due to the fact that the city’s marine workers operate on a four-day schedule with 8 hour shifts. In essence, they are scheduled to work 32 regular hours per week – eight less than most other city workers. 

Payroll records show the 2021 base salary for a Staten Island Ferry captain was just under $71,000.  But on average, captains added nearly $47,000 in overtime earnings. The union says the city’s base compensation is so low, workers rely on the overtime. But all those extra hours lead to a revolving door cycle, whereby the city loses staff to higher-paying private sector shipping companies. And when ferry workers leave the job, the city ends up asking the remaining staff to work more overtime.

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