Editor’s Note: The Joint Committee on Public Service will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill No. 1627 on Thursday, Nov. 15 at 10:30 a.m. in Room B-2 at the State House in Boston. The bill would amend the Steamship Authority’s enabling act to authorize a single arbitrator to determine wages, benefits and other terms of employment for SSA union employees, if the boat line is unable to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the union within five months after the expiration of the prior contract. The boat line opposes the bill. What follows is a position statement written by general manager Wayne Lamson, edited for length and style.

Despite the many difficult issues facing all employers in the commonwealth, including but not limited to the rising cost of health care, the SSA has remained successful in reaching new collective bargaining agreements with all but one of its unions.

The only union with which the SSA has not yet been able to reach a new collective bargaining agreement over the past few years is the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, AFL-CIO, which represents the boat line’s marine engineers.

The language of Senate Bill No. 1627 is obviously lifted wholesale from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s enabling act, which was amended in the late 1970s as part of a management rights bill that was prompted by a transportation crisis faced by the MBTA. In exchange for requiring the MBTA to submit its outstanding labor contracts to binding arbitration, the legislature expressly preserved MBTA’s inherent management rights and prohibited any collective bargaining and any collective bargaining agreements that might infringe on any of those rights.

Senate Bill No. 1627 contains no similar provisions to protect the Steamship Authority’s inherent management rights. Thus, if Senate Bill No. 1627 is enacted into law, the SSA will receive the worst of both worlds, being required to submit any outstanding collective bargaining issues to binding arbitration, while already having contracted away one of the most significant management rights, namely, the right to develop and determine levels of staffing.

To the best of our knowledge, the legislature does not require any public employer other than the MBTA to submit any unresolved labor disputes to unqualified binding arbitration.

The boat line is currently participating in a fact-finding process with MEBA over our unresolved issues. The open issues include wages, supplemental or premium pay, medical coverage, retirement benefits and contractual manning requirements. The process can result in a fact-finder’s findings and recommendations being made public if the parties’ impasse persists.

For the sake of the boat line’s long-term financial stability, as well as the economy of the Islands, the SSA opposes this legislation in the strongest possible terms.