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State Declares Impasse in Fairweather Negotiations
ALRA asked to mediate labor agreement to keep
fast vehicle ferry operating beyond January 25


January 04, 2005

Juneau, Alaska - After nearly a year of bargaining described as fruitless by the state for a labor agreement to cover workers on the state's new fast vehicle ferry, the state has declared negotiations to be at an impasse, and has petitioned the Alaska Labor Relations Agency (ALRA) to order mediation. Since voluntary mediation failed on October 1, state labor negotiators have met 17 times with representatives of the three maritime unions that represent ferry workers - the Inland Boatmens' Union (IBU), the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA), and the Masters, Mates and Pilots (MM&P).

"It should not come as any surprise that we are at an impasse," said John Torgerson, special assistant to the DOT&PF Commissioner Mike Barton, and a member of the labor negotiating team. "We have been trying to negotiate a contract based on three very expensive labor agreements. The maritime unions' generous leave accruals allow many employees to work less than one-half a year, yet get paid for the entire year. Their benefits are legendary. Yet, their negotiators expect the people of Alaska to pay even more for them to work on board our newest ferry. Based on the provisions of agreements we have achieved with our other labor unions, the proposals we have offered the three maritime unions are simply at the limit of what the state can afford. The ferry system will already have to go to the Legislature for supplemental funding for this year ­ the unions' demands would exacerbate that even more."

In a January 3, 2005 letter to the Alaska Labor Relations Agency, the state's Director of Labor Relations, Art Chance, noted that it is uneconomic to continue operating the Fairweather under the residual terms of an expired agreement entered into last spring. The state would like to reduce operations from seven days per week to four during the winter, which will require laying off the vessel's second 15-member crew. However, it will require a new agreement with the three unions in order to allow operations to continue.

"If the state is unable to move to the reduced schedule, it is our intention to cease operation of the Fairweather on January 25, 2005," said DOT&PF Commissioner Mike Barton. "Tying up the vessel will result in the layoff of virtually the entire specially trained crew, a result we would sincerely hope to avoid."

Chance said the letter of agreement under which the vessel has operated for eight months was "crafted to cover a period of intense training and initial operations and requires that two full crews be paid for a 7/12s schedule week on-week off." That level of staffing and operation is not economic in the winter season.

The three ports currently served from Juneau by the Fairweather - Haines, Skagway, and Sitka - are also served by mainline ferries two times each week. Haines and Skagway are served by the Matanuska each Friday, and by the Malaspina/ each Monday. Sitka service is provided by the LeConte on each Thursday and Saturday. Travelers should check with their local terminals for exact sailing times.

Related Information:

pdf State's Director of Labor Relations Art Chance's letter to ALRA

pdf Commissioner Barton's letter to Darryl Tseu, Ben Goldrich, & Ron Leighton
Subject: Winter operations for the MV Fairweather

pdf Fact Sheet explaining the state's position relative to crewing the AMHS's fast vehicle ferry Fairweather


Source of News:

Alaska Department of Transportation
Web Site



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