Picket Up

It seems nothing short of an ass-kicking will keep tourists from crossing the picket line in front of Hornblower's tour operations at Pier 31.

Since the nonunion Hornblower was awarded the Alcatraz ferry contract by the National Park Service in September, fired Blue and Gold Ferry workers have screamed bullhorn-amplified allegations of union-busting, cronyism, and raw sewage spills by inexperienced deckhands. If their effort was supposed to dissuade visitors from patronizing Hornblower, it hasn't worked.

Nearly every run is sold out. One visitor — unfazed by the thin line of burly union members — explained that he was not in a union, that he had only one day left of his vacation, and that it would take a tsunami to stop him from making the 1 1/2-mile boat trip to the famous island prison.

"I'm sorry for them, but I'm not really interested," he said.

He's not alone. Sure, nearly 600 members from various Bay Area unions converged on the waterfront in October. But progressive media championing the unions' cause have quieted, visible support has vaporized, and not even pleas from Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Mayor Gavin Newsom got the 55 members of the Inlandboatmen's Union and the Masters, Mates & Pilots union their jobs back.

Meanwhile, the same picketers who warned that Hornblower's union-busting would spread knocked off early last Wednesday. According to Hornblower security, what was supposed to have been a 3 1/2-hour picket turned into a tepid hour-long stroll.

"San Francisco has become less a union town over the last 25 years," admits Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, which supports the unions' fight against Hornblower.

An alleged sewage spill off Alcatraz in October brought Hornblower back to the table, but negotiations broke off after an overly aggressive union negotiator "pissed off" Hornblower, according to a picketer.

"I don't think we'll be having any more negotiations," says Hornblower CEO Terry MacRae. He adds: "If the employees want to organize, that's up to them."

Paulson hopes the two sides will reconcile, but admits it's a long shot.

The unions are hoping to get the public's sympathy back by staging a march on the pier on Jan. 14. But because it'll come long after the holidays, its only sure outcome will be fewer tourists to ignore the picketers.

 
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