A labor dispute involving the largest union representing state ferry workers is poised to paralyze the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Hundreds of ferry workers are threatening to strike as early as Wednesday afternoon after contract negotiations broke down and a majority of the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific’s Alaska chapter members voted to authorize direct action.
“We remain hopeful that the state will accept the union’s last compromise contract offer that will keep the state’s ferry system running smoothly for the residents of Alaska,” IBU President Marina Secchitano said in a statement.
A strike by more than 400 IBU members would immediately shut down sailings for at least a half dozen vessels.
“There’s 107,301 Alaskans who live in communities served by the ferry that will lose their regular service,” Trina Arnold, regional director of the IBU’s Alaska chapter said in a statement.
Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities Commissioner John MacKinnon said a systemwide shut down would impact residents, visitors and commerce during the busiest time of year.
“We plan to return ships to safe harbor with adequate shoreside support and contact ticketed passengers to work with them to continue their journey, reschedule or offer refunds,” MacKinnon said in a statement.
The union put out its strike warning on Tuesday evening. It said 86 percent of its members voted to reject what it described as a “harsh package” that would rollback more than two dozen settlements that had been negotiated over the past three years and freeze wages for five years.
Hours later state officials declared an impasse over what is described as the union’s demand for a 9 percent pay increase over three years and letting its members choose vessel assignments.
The union and state labor relations team have been in meetings to hammer out a new contract that expired in May.
Mediation failed after talks broke down last week.
But Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka — who oversees labor relations — said in a statement that her team was committed to a good-faith resolution.
“We remain open to working with the IBU and to reaching an agreement that is fair to the employees, fair to the State of Alaska, and good for all Alaskans,” she said.
The other two ferry unions are not involved.
The AFL-CIO affiliated International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots and Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association have both negotiated a one-year extension to their contracts.