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SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 26 (Reuters) – The Golden Gate passenger ferry system, California’s largest, was shut down on Friday by striking boat captains, disrupting service for thousands of San Francisco Bay-area commuters in a wider labor dispute over wages and benefits for transit workers.
The 20 ferry pilots who work for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District walked off the job for the day to protest what union officials have criticized as bad-faith contract bargaining on the part of management.
The Golden Gate service operates five ferries making 42 crossings a day – carrying roughly 8,500 passengers – between San Francisco and the Marin County communities of Sausalito and Larkspur on the north side of the bay.
With no one else available to pilot the vessels while the union captains stage their first ever labor strike, the ferry system will be closed until Saturday morning, the district said. The shutdown includes service that had been scheduled for the San Francisco Giants baseball game on Friday night at AT&T Park.
With an estimated 2.7 million passengers a year, the district says it runs the largest passenger ferry system in California, designed to ease traffic congestion on the Golden Gate Bridge itself.
The strike does not affect the smaller San Francisco Bay Ferry system, which serves East and South Bay areas.
Golden Gate ferry captains, who have been without a contract since July 1, are represented by the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, part of a 13-union coalition embroiled in contentious labor negotiations with the Golden Gate district.
Wages, healthcare and other benefits for some 400 unionized transit workers, including the ferry pilots, are among the chief stumbling blocks, according to both sides.
Union officials say that after several years of tough economic times and contract concessions on their part, union members are due for more generous pay and benefits. Instead, they say, the district was seeking higher employee healthcare premiums that would negate minimal wage hikes.
They also dispute district assertions that Golden Gate ferry boat captains earn more than their counterparts in other systems, and cite data showing that district workers’ pay overall lags behind the rising cost of living in the Bay Area.
Coalition co-chair Alex Tonisson said the union has filed an unfair labor practices charge, accusing management of backing out of a tentative deal on training reached during talks.
Contract negotiations were set to resume on Monday. (Writing and additional reporting Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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