About a dozen members of the Inlandboatmen’s Union formed a picket line Thursday afternoon outside the ferry dock where the M/V Tustumena is still moored. They carried signs with messages like “IBU fair contract now,” and “IBU on strike for fair contract.” This marks one full day since the union declared a strike, effectively shutting down all state ferry service until further notice.
The more than 400 ferry workers that IBU represents voted Wednesday afternoon to cease work, walking off vessels across the state, including the Tustumena in Kodiak. The Tusty was scheduled to leave Wednesday evening for Homer but remains tied up as the strike continues. The M/V Kennicott, the other ferry that services Kodiak, remains moored in Ketchikan.
Michael Queen is Southwest Representative on IBU’s board and the Chief Purser on the Tustumena. Standing with other picketers near the dock, he said that the big sticking point for IBU members is the prospect of paying for increased healthcare costs without being offered a trade-off like the step-and-merit pay scale that other state employees get. The step-and-merit system provides automatic raises to workers with more experience.
“For us to agree to this we would have to have some kind of assistance, some kind of raise or step-and-merit we’ve asked for, but they refuse to give that to us,” he said.
Contract negotiations between IBU and the Dunleavy administration broke down Wednesday afternoon, according to Robb Arnold, vice chair of IBU’s board. Arnold told KMXT Thursday morning that the union hasn’t actually had a contract for the last three years. Instead they’ve been working under a series of interim agreements, but that also means they haven’t had any wage increases in that time.
Arnold says they’re currently seeking a three year contract with the state with a 3 percent raise each year. That 3 percent might seem steep, he says, but it’s to make up for the last few years of stagnant wages. Another major concern, he says, is the state’s treatment of IBU employees.
“The state is treating our members horribly. They’re intimidated, it’s a hostile work environment. They won’t let us off the ships, we can’t get vacations. They hired 75 people and they all quit. We’re holding the fort but the office is being really disrespectful towards our members. We have over a hundred grievances.”
John MacKinnon, Commissioner of the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities said Friday that they had heard complaints of excess overtime, the reason being “there aren’t enough workers.” He also said the department only has 30 active grievances filed by employees.
Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka released a statement on Wednesday evening calling on IBU to end the strike and return to the negotiating table. “The state did not want a work stoppage, nor does the State believe the strike is necessary to reach an agreement.”
According to the Anchorage Daily News, Tshibaka said the state had offered multiple deals, including a 3-year contract that would have given a 5 percent raise the first year and 2 percent raises consecutive years, but the union declined.
In her statement, Tshibaka also repeatedly characterized the strike as “unlawful,” and warned that union members could face termination. Standing outside the Tustumena this afternoon, Queen disagreed.
“That’s something that every boss, every manager, every company always says,” he said. “The law is on our side. It is not illegal.”