State and ferry workers union reach tentative agreement

The Tazlina, Malaspina and LeConte moored in Juneau during a strike by the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific on July 25, 2019 (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

Negotiators for the state and the Inland Boatmen’s Union reached a tentative agreement late Thursday night, which could bring an end to Alaska’s ten-day-old ferry strike as early as tomorrow.

But IBU leaders say they’re waiting for a majority of their 400-odd members to ratify the deal before going back to work. Sen. Jesse Kiehl says he and his staff helped facilitate the talks but was not privy to the details.

“We did whatever we could to get the parties talking and keep them talking we booked meeting rooms in legislative space so it was neutral ground and we made coffee and emptied wastebaskets and whatever we could do without breaking the rules to first get the parties talking and then keep them talking,” Kiehl said.

Negotiations had stalled after last weekend. Talks resumed Tuesday evening, only after a federal mediator returned to Juneau. There’s been no word from state officials. Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka has called a noon press conference to brief reporters. As of Friday morning, workers were packing up picket lines at ferry terminals in Juneau and Ketchikan.

The sudden strike last Wednesday called by the ferry’s largest union shut down the Alaska Marine Highway System. That initially stranded hundreds of people and their vehicles. Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat, says it’s also disrupted the flow of freight and goods.

“I am really, really excited at the prospect of getting that service moving again those those vessels need to sail for the economy and the culture of coastal Alaska,” Kiehl said.

The IBU has been seeking a three-year contract with 3% raises annually. That’s after two years of wage freezes. The cost of health care premiums and a disparity in pay between Alaska residents and non-residents have also been sticking points.

State officials had alleged some of the union’s initial demands were unlawful and threatened that striking workers could face suspension or termination because the strike was illegal. 

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.