State Ferry Union Averts Strike

Alaska Marine Highway System captains and deck officers have avoided a strike that could have shut down ferry service across the state this weekend.

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The ferry LeConte docks in Skagway in 2009. (J Webber/Creative Commons)
The ferry LeConte docks in Skagway in 2009. (J Webber/Creative Commons)

Instead, the International Organization of Master, Mates and Pilots will return to the bargaining table with state officials. Earlier this month, the union rejected a tentative contract agreement that included no pay increase this year, a 1 percent raise next year and a 2 percent increase in 2016. MMP asked the state to reopen negotiations, or members would go on strike this Saturday.

Union representative Ron Bressette (briss-ette) says the proposed wage increase does not go far enough, and will force members to continue working overtime.

“They have to man the ships and they just don’t have adequate personnel to do that anymore. So one of the concerns is that they have to look at paying the deck officers enough and paying them an industry standard wage in order to recruit and retain new deck officers as well as keep the deck officers that they currently have.”

Administration Commissioner Curtis Thayer says Alaska Marine Highway workers are already well compensated, and the state needs to shrink the agency’s growing budget.

“They’re in line with what has been accepted with the other bargaining units across the state. The wages are the same. The state is in a fiscal situation where we don’t have a lot of money to give.”

Both sides have signed an agreement to reopen negotiations as soon as possible with a federal mediator. If mediation fails, language in the agreement says either party could declare an impasse, setting up binding arbitration.

Masters, Mates and Pilots represents about 100 licensed captains and deck officers.

The largest union for state ferry workers agreed this week to a contract similar to the one rejected by MMP. The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific represents about 650 Alaska Marine Highway employees. A third ferry workers’ union – the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association – has yet to vote on its tentative contract agreement.