The Alaska Marine Highway System’s Tazlina, right, arrives at the Auke Bay Terminal as the Kennicott departs on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The Alaska Marine Highway System’s Tazlina, right, arrives at the Auke Bay Terminal as the Kennicott departs on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ferry workers go on strike

Inland Boatman Union authorizes strike after failed negotiations with administration

The Alaska Region of the Inland Boatman’s Union of the Pacific has authorized its members to go on strike effective Wednesday, a spokesman for the union said.

IBU sent out a press release Tuesday evening saying that after three years of failed negotiations with the administration, the union was prepared to authorize a strike over a number of unresolved grievances.

“We’ve spent almost 3 years bargaining with the State, including federal mediation, in a good-faith effort to negotiate a fair contract,” Marina Secchitano, union president, said in the release. “The members have made it very clear by their vote that the State’s unfair proposal is not acceptable.”

The strike will have an immediate impact on the MV Columbia in Ketchikan. Workers assigned to that vessel will not be working and have organized a picket line. Workers belonging to other unions have pledged to honor picket lines, too.

“We didn’t want to take this action and urged the Governor’s negotiators to work with us to get a contract,” said Trina Arnold, Director of the Alaska Region Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific, an affiliate of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. “This strike action is just beginning, and we stand ready to return if the Governor’s negotiators want to get this resolved with a contract,” she added.

The press release cites a number of reasons including no wage increase in five years, one year instead of three year contracts, and the use of overtime rather than hiring more workers as primary reasons for the rejection.

Mike Forrest, a local supporter of ferry system, drives his truck with signs at the Auke Bay Terminal on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Mike Forrest, a local supporter of ferry system, drives his truck with signs at the Auke Bay Terminal on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The release also note the significant cuts to the ferry system proposed by the governor’s budget. The union’s statement says that the legislature is “threatening the entire ferry system” by slashing ferry service, cancelling new vessels and “encouraging private investors to take-over the public system and raise fares.”

In its own press release Wednesday morning, before a full strike was authorized, the Department of Administration said, “contract negotiations have been ongoing since December 2016 and, every offer – including concessions on pay increases, lump sum payments, and benefit enhancements – has been turned down by the IBU,” according to Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka.

“Over the course of two-and-a-half years, the State met with the IBU 38 times, only a few of them with the Dunleavy administration, and participated in mediated sessions to address its requests in good faith. It is our goal to agree to a contract that is fair and equitable to both IBU employees and the State. We bumped up our last offer 25% because we do not want to disrupt coastal operations in the height of Alaska’s tourism season.”

From left to right: Robb Arnorld, John Fageaux, IBU President Marina Secchitano, at the IBU office in Juneau on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Peter Segall|Juneau Empire)

From left to right: Robb Arnorld, John Fageaux, IBU President Marina Secchitano, at the IBU office in Juneau on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Peter Segall|Juneau Empire)

At midday Wednesday, a representative from IBU contacted the Empire to say that after months of no communication from the administration, representatives from the Department of Administration had agreed to meet at the union’s offices in downtown Juneau.

Deputy Director of Personnel at the Department of Administration Nancy Sutch and Jared Goecker, Deputy Director of Labor Relations met with union official at 1 p.m. but though some language was changed, no further agreement could be made.

Vice Chair of the IBU board Robb Arnold told the Empire later Wednesday afternoon that the union felt compelled to “take economic action,” and had authorized a strike. At a press conference earlier Wednesday union officials assured reporters that all vessels would be in safe port and that all crew members and passengers would be off the boats when the strike began.

Strikers took to the picket line in Ketchikan and Juneau Wednesday afternoon.

“As soon as I pulled in, soon as I shut down, ‘you’re done, walk off,’” union member Paul Lorentz said he was told. “All vessels will be tied to the nearest state owned dock,” he said.

Speaking at the ferry terminal in Auke Bay, Alaska resident Connie Bainter said that the ferries are here for Alaskans’ transportation.

“This is our highway system,” she said.

“I’ve been here for 60 years,” Bainter added, “and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

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