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Alcatraz ferry workers strike ahead of tourist season

People are protesting outdoors, holding signs that read, "Inlandboatmen's Union, Marine Division - ILWU. An Injury to One is an Injury to All." A tall structure and buildings are in the background.
Alcatraz City Cruises said the strike that began Saturday would continue until management agreed to bargain in good faith. | Source: Jackson Stephens/The Standard

Workers who ferry tourists to and from Alcatraz Island went on strike Saturday amid sputtering labor negotiations, forcing some of their managers to pilot the boats.

About 100 Alcatraz City Cruises employees—who unionized in 2022 under the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific—voted Tuesday to approve a strike as they push for a contract that would give them higher wages and benefits, as well as more dependable schedules.

Alcatraz Workers United President Robert Estrada said the walkout would continue “as long it needs to” until management decides to negotiate in good faith.

“There’s an unfortunate impact to their waterfront, the company and the tourists,” Estrada acknowledged. “If this was without impact to the public, maybe we wouldn’t have waited to get to this point.”

Alcatraz City Cruises, part of the Hornblower Group, is contracted by the National Park Service to transport people to and from the former federal prison that once housed notorious criminals like Al Capone. The prison island was converted into a national park in 1972 and went on to become one of San Francisco’s most iconic tourist destinations, drawing some 1.4 million visitors a year.

The union says Alcatraz City Cruises has needlessly dragged negotiations on to the year-and-a-half mark.

“There’s a feeling they’re not bargaining in good faith,” Estrada said. “We’re lucky to get a couple of days a month with them. We need to get this done.”

One of the main points of contention is about scheduling, according to the union’s San Francisco regional director, Marina Secchitano.

“The frustration comes from having no set schedule,” she told The Standard. “They can change your schedule at a moment’s notice.”

Erik Anfinson, a ferry captain and veteran employee of Alcatraz City Cruises, said striking seemed to be the only way to get through to higher-ups that working conditions need to change.

“We do not have a pension,” he told The Standard at the strike on Saturday. “The scheduling has been horrible. I’ve been here 17 years and it’s been very difficult to know when we are on or off because the schedule isn’t made out way in advance. So I never know when I can make a doctor or dental appointment or plan to go on vacation.”

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district encompasses Pier 33 where the ferries dock, echoed the union’s calls for Alcatraz City Cruises to hammer out a contract before a strike disrupts service for visitors.

“Tourism is bouncing back,” Peskin said. “It would be disappointing if that experience was not there.”

The Hornblower Group, which runs Alcatraz City Cruises, said through a spokesperson that the company would make sure the strike wouldn’t disrupt operations.

In a bulletin sent to employees ahead of the strike, the company said it was “surprised and disappointed” to learn that 91% of the union authorized the work stoppage.

The letter from management said Alcatraz City Cruises has a plan in place and will continue to operate during the strike. It also warned that employees who join the walkout could lose their jobs.

“The company has the right to hire temporary or permanent replacements for a striking employee,” the letter stated. “We intend to continue to operate and will have work available.”

Managers invited anyone in the union to cross the picket line if they didn’t want to lose any pay.

“For a company that keeps saying the reason they are taking a long time to get this right and that they care about their employees,” Secchitano said, “that statement doesn’t match this letter.”

Garrett Leahy can be reached at