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A Teamster ‘Lifeline’

Ferry Pilots, Captains Join Local 59, Ratify First Contract

This is a great thoroughfare for vessels bound along the coast between Cape Cod and the mouth of Buzzard's bay. It lies between the island of Martha's Vineyard and the islands of Nashawn and Nashawenna. The tides in this Sound are rapid and the passage dangerous, without a good pilot.

--From Hayward's New England Gazetteer of 1839

For almost 200 years—since 1818—captains and pilots of the vessels of the Steamship Authority and its predecessors have been traveling the waters off Cape Cod, Mass., and now those men and women are Teamsters.

The 53 captains and pilots joined Local 59 in New Bedford, Mass. in May 2013, and they ratified their first contract in mid-September, which provides the workers with strong health, welfare and pension benefits. They join about 200 other Authority employees who are already Local 59 members, including ticket sellers, agency and terminal workers, maintenance, parking attendants, bus drivers and security personnel.

The Steamship Authority’s statutory mission is to serve as the “Lifeline to the Islands” (Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket), and the 250-plus Teamsters make that happen every day.

“We have provided strong representation and strong contracts to the other groups of employees for years, and recognizing this, the pilots wanted to become Teamsters in order to have the same strength and security,” said George Belanger, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 59.

At the Helm

Captain Norman DeBarros scans the water as the M/V Island Home pulls out of Woods Hole, a former center of whaling and fishing, now known for tourism and marine research. The 1,200-passenger ferry, which can also transport 76 vehicles, can make the crossing to Martha’s Vineyard in 45 minutes at top speed of 16 knots (about 18.4 mph). It is one of the Authority’s nine vessels.

“As captain, I am responsible for every person and everything on this vessel,” DeBarros said. “That includes 1,200 passengers, firefighting, first aid and navigation.”

DeBarros said he and his fellow captains and pilots joined Local 59 after seeing how the Teamsters fought for their coworkers.

“For us, it was about securing strong health, welfare and pension plans,” said DeBarros, who has worked at the Authority since 1994. “Also, there is strength in numbers, so hopefully we can have more influence in dealing with the Steamship Authority.”

Kevin Beaudoin, a 15-year Authority employee, a pilot and captain, said the job has many challenges, including responding to passenger injuries, navigating in bad weather and dealing with small boat traffic. But he said the job allows him to do what he loves without having to be away from home for long periods like his previous job.

“Over the years, our medical plan has gotten more expensive and they have taken things away,” Beaudoin said. “Now we have a Teamster contract that addresses our issues. A lot of people are excited about becoming Teamsters.”

Group Effort

“Organizing the employees and winning this strong contract was truly a group effort from start to finish,” Belanger said. “We worked closely with our legal counsel, Michael Feinberg, and I am proud of the efforts of Eastern Region Vice President Sean O’Brien for his assistance on the health care plan and pension.”

Belanger also recognized Joint Council 10 Secretary-Treasurer David Laughton and the New England Teamsters & Trucking Industry Pension Fund trustees and staff.

“None of this would have been possible if not for the support and commitment of the rank and file and their negotiating committee, John Hanson, Michael Mazza and Christopher Keating,” Belanger said. “They worked tirelessly on behalf of their brothers and sisters at the Authority and we are so happy to finally have them all as members of Teamsters Local 59.”

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