“Eighty-six percent of our members rejected that offer andgave us authorization to strike,” Arnold said. “And that’s very unusual, at the end of an action likethis at the end of a labor dispute, to end on a positive note with the unionrepresentatives,” Tshibaka said. “And I was really happy about that.” “I think that that is something you’re going to have to goto IBU for because I still puzzle over that,” Tshibaka said. “They’ve said that it would be probably a few days and ifit goes on too long then they’ll just basically cancel this sailing and go tothe next week sailing if the strike were to break up,” she said. “So we are here until the IBU returns,” McGrath said atthe time. “We can’t legally sail the ship without them.” Robb Arnold works as chief purser on the ferry Malaspinaand is a member of IBU’s negotiating team. He says the strike didn’t justhappened overnight. There’s some important context here: the legislature onlyappropriated $46 million to the ferry system for next fiscal year. That’saround $44 million less than last year amongst years of cost-cutting. Under adraft winter schedule released last month, some coastal communities stand tolose service for seven months starting in October. Tshibaka credits the IBU’s leadership in helping to end thestrike. She says by the time they’d reach a deal, the tension in the room hadlifted. The contract negotiations predate the Dunleavyadministration. The IBU’s 430-odd members were still working off their lastcontract that expired in 2017. This year they were asked to forego any wageadjustments — that would be up for negotiation next year. Both sides presentedwhat they termed their “final and best offer” before the state declaredan impasse. There are still finer points both sides agreed on. The union also softened its stance on pay hikes. Tshibakasays higher wages translate into less money to run the system. Ferry workersare hourly. IBU members are only paid when they’re crewing a ship. From the state’s perspective, the IBU agreed that itsmembers would begin contributing toward their health plan in 2021. But theyalso don’t automatically lose coverage during months when they’re not working. “You know, they say the best negotiation is when there’scompromise, and people are not happy when they walk away from the table,”Arnold said. “So I think that’s kind of what happened here.” The fleet remained tied to the dock for 11 days while thestate and largest ferry union worked through a federal mediator to hammer out acontract. “It surprised me as much as it surprised the rest ofAlaska,” said Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly. That day, Carrie Martinsen of Petersburg told local radiostation KFSK she was trying to get daughter to Tennessee to start college. Shesaid the situation was fluid. “The state just kept ramping up the, you know, pressure onus, and we just had to do we had to do with economic sanctions,” Arnold said. Then with little apparent warning, half the crew walkedoff. Some picked up placards and signs and formed a picket line at Ketchikan’sferry terminal. IBU members will no longer pay for hotels out of pocket.That’s been an issue with the fleet’s new Alaska Class Ferries — so-called“day boats” that lack crew quarters — forcing crew members toovernight in hotels between voyages and then wait weeks to be reimbursed thestate. Both sides say they compromised and reached a faircontract. It took the state and IBU nine days to resolve thecontract dispute. The Alaska Marine Highway System didn’t get back up andrunning until two days later. It was a sunny afternoon and the state’s flagship ferryColumbia was loaded with hundreds of passengers and cars preparing to departfor Bellingham, Washington. Arnold says the 11-day shutdown could serve as a wakeupcall. Crew members from the ferry Columbia erected a picket line in Ketchikan on July 24, 2019 after the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific called the first ferry strike in more than 40 years. (Photo by Maria Dudzak/KRBD) In all, 8,570 passengers were affected along with 2,468 vehicles. Refunds cost the system upwards of $3.3 million. It was the busiest time of year and caught many — including Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration — off-guard. “So what we were really arguing for this whole time as wewere trying to maximize the number of routes we could run, so we can maximizeservice to the coastal communities and maximize the number of hours, these IBUemployees could work,” Tshibaka said. Captain Josh McGrath called the Columbia’s stunnedpassengers for an impromptu announcement. The Inlandboatmen’s Union of thePacific had called a strike. It was out of his hands. So what did the IBU win? First, it got a three-yearcontract. The state had been offering a one-year term. The union workers stillhave their pay frozen at 2017 levels. But they’ll get 1.5 percent increases in2020 and the year after that. “This is like a preview of coming attractions,” Arnoldsaid. “So I think people realize, ‘Hey, this is what’s going to really happen.’And so there’s more focus on the ferries.” The union also dropped a number of its demands: memberswon’t be able to pick which vessels they work on. And out-of-state workers willcontinue to be paid less per hour than Alaska residents. Tshibaka led the state’s negotiating team with the IBU.So, why did the ferry’s largest union strike?
Ferry workers union explains why strike happened and what workers gained from