KODIAK — Elected union leaders representing 400 public ferry workers who are among those who operate Alaska’s Marine Highway System are describing their meeting over the weekend* with federal mediator Beth Schindler as “very positive and constructive,” according to a Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific press release.
“There were positive steps in our meeting that should allow both sides to reach a solution,” said Trina Arnold, director of the Alaska Region Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific, an affiliate of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. “The process was productive and positive. We want the ferries to get running and communities to be connected as soon as possible.”
The strike was initiated on Wednesday by the Inland Boatmen’s Union of the Pacific because of failed contract negotiations with the state.
The strike caused the AMHS system to shut down, forcing ferries to dock and stranding passengers, including the Kodiak American Legion Baseball team who were in Anchorage at the Matson Invitational at Bartlett High School.
The team had planned to return Tuesday on the ferry, but with the strike still ongoing, they had to make other arrangements, said manager Derek Clarkston.
“Debbie Rohrer, Kodiak High School activities director, is going to get us the school rate for Ravn,” Clarkston wrote in a text. “Our only problem now will be what to do with the team van. That requires another trip to Anchorage once ferry service returns.”
The Kodiak community has been responsive to requests for help from ferry terminal employees, Ferry Terminal Manager Amanda Becker told the Kodiak Daily Mirror on Monday.
“We had passengers; they had to fly out with animals that didn’t have airline certified pet crates,” she said.
Within 20 minutes of posting on the Facebook group Friends of Kodiak requesting pet crates, ferry employees collected two crates used to board two rottweilers onto a plane and have four more, Becker said.
Becker also recalled an instance when a woman had to leave Kodiak on a plane and could not bring her truck or dog. Locals offered to look after her truck and take care of her dog, Becker said.
She also said that Kodiak bed and breakfast owners, as well as citizens have offered to help stranded passengers and ferry workers with places to stay.
“Anything we’ve had to put a request out for we’ve had answers within minutes. It’s been incredible. This community has been awesome,” Becker said.
State officials and the union met over the weekend to continue negotiations with a federal mediator, said Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka in a video released by the Alaska Department of Transportation Friday.
In past press conferences Tshibaka has said the strike is illegal because of one provision included in the union’s demands. Although union officials wrote in a letter to the Department of Administration that they were willing to amend the provision, state officials still consider the strike unlawful.
A union press release stated that the refusal of the state to provide inflation protection, pay raises and lower health care costs means that families are still “left underwater.”
“After almost three years of negotiations, and tentative agreements were reached on 30 contract items, terms could not be reached on pay and benefits,” stated the press release.
If the strike continues past August 1, the premium for their health insurance will not be covered by the state because they will not be receiving compensation for employment, wrote Tshibaka in a letter to the union on Friday.
Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific vice Chairman Robb Arnold expressed his concerns about the loss of health insurance, but reiterated the need for a fair contract.
“Our whole goal isn’t to disrupt traffic, our goal is to go to work. We have to get a fair deal. That’s what we are here for to get that contract. We can’t pay more for health care and not get anything and not get any wages,” Arnold said.
Arnold also said that the Department of Transportation Commissioner John MacKinnon did not attend negotiation meetings over the weekend.
“Call John MacKinnon. He is holding things up. He hasn’t shown up yet and he’s the one making decisions,” Arnold told KDM Monday.
KDM’s attempts to contact the Governor’s Office on Monday were unsuccessful.
The M/V Tustumena did not sail Monday; all trips on the Kennicott have been cancelled through the 7th. All other vessel sailings are cancelled through Tuesday today.**
* The original story had the wrong date reference for when the meetings occurred.
** The original story had the wrong schedule for cancellations.