Wrangell contract talks resume, strikers return to work

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers representative Julius Matthew walked the picket line with Wrangell municipal workers Lorne Cook, Dwight Yancey and Andrew Scambler before the strike ended. (Photo courtesy IBEW)

The strike is over, at least for now.

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The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Wrangell Borough officials are returning to the bargaining table.

IBEW leader Dave Reaves said the union emailed Wrangell’s borough manager, finance director and assembly members Wednesday morning, asking for talks to resume.

“We’d be willing to put the unfair labor practice … in abeyance, which basically means it would be paused or put on hold if they were willing to come back and talk,” Reaves said Wednesday afternoon.

Interim Borough Manager Carol Rushmore said the two sides would begin talks at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

About 25 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers voted last week to go on strike. That came after the union and municipality rejected each other’s final contract offers.

The main difference between the two sides is a wage increase. The borough offered 75 cents an hour, while the union proposed $2.50 an hour.

Meanwhile, the municipality hired temporary workers to fill in for striking employees.

Rushmore told Assembly members Tuesday night that one was working in the water department. She said another was at the solid waste transfer station. It’s open reduced hours, though there’s increased demand, because the strike stopped curbside garbage pickup.

Rushmore said there are other problems at the transfer station.

Only one of the usual two large containers used to ship trash south was delivered by barge this time around. That could complicate operations.

“If that container fills up pretty fast, we may actually have to close the dump again because we have nowhere to put the trash,” Rushmore said.

In addition to the temps, approximately 35 managers and other non-union staff continued to work.

Union members left the picket line to help with several emergencies during the strike.

Reaves said electrical crews took care of two power outages.

“The first day, there was an eagle that got into some lines. The linemen responded and fixed that. That outage included the hospital. And then the other day there was another outage, a transformer had internal problems and a crew responded and fixed that too,” Reaves said.

The Wrangell Assembly held a closed-door executive session on the strike with its attorney during its Tuesday meeting. But members made no announcement after it was over.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.