Game on! Surprise strike is unfair labor practice

Art Chance
Art Chance


The Inlandboatman’s Union’s strike caught the State of Alaska flat-footed.  A good title for a piece about it would be, “At 2 PM We Slept.” Those of a certain age will recognize that as a take-off on a famous book about the Pearl Harbor attack, “At Dawn We Slept.”

What happened to the State of Alaska this week was the labor relations and political equivalent of the opposing team taking the opening kick-off and running it back for a 100-yard touchdown.

It is embarrassing and inexcusable that it happened, especially for me, since some of the people who should have done something are my hires and former subordinates. In their defense there hasn’t been any real controversy between the State and its unions since the 1990s, so none of them has any experience with anything but relative labor peace.

The union has committed multiple unfair labor practices and their own words, and Creepy Joe Biden’s words, are the only evidence one needs.

First the union has an illegal proposal regarding “Cost of Living Differential” pay on the table, and, second, they’ve been all over the media saying that their primary motive is political opposition to the governor’s budget cuts.

Sorry, boys, budget cuts aren’t “wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment,” the legal duty to bargain. This is largely a politically motivated strike and the union has both statements and proposals that graphically evidence that.

The factual predicate of a legal strike (and the IBU does have a legal right to strike) is the existence of a valid state of impasse in bargaining. A valid state of impasse exists when a party has a good faith belief that further bargaining will not result in an agreement.

An unfair labor practice is a bar to a valid state of impasse and so long as there is an unresolved unfair labor practice, the offending party cannot resort to economic weapons such as a strike or lockout.

Word is they’re bringing in a federal mediator again. In my experience the federal mediators were good company but not good for much else other than it was a step you had to go through to make sure you had valid impasse for employees without a right to strike or with a limited right to strike, such as AMHS employees.

Here’s where it gets complicated, and where the amateurs and State lawyers who do labor relations once in awhile get lost:

The State has valid unfair labor practice charges that it can use to get the Alaska Labor Relations Agency to force the IBU to end the strike and return to bargaining.  Usually reliable sources tell me that the Administration is being advised that it shouldn’t file the ULPs for fear that the Alaska Labor Relations Agency will order the State and the union to arbitration over their contract dispute.

Whoever is giving that advice is either sabotaging the Administration, is a coward, or is simply ignorant.

A reading of the plain language of the controlling authority, AS 23.40.200(a)(2) informs us that only a court can order the State and the union to arbitration. In the unlikely event that the State could demonstrate that a ferry strike poses a threat to public safety, not convenience or economics, but safety, a court could order the IBU back to work and order the parties to interest arbitration to have an arbitrator form their contract subject to Legislative approval.

The Alaska Labor Relations Agency cannot order the State to arbitration; its only power is to order the union to cease the strike and return to bargaining.  This doesn’t even take any legal skill to figure out; if you can read plain English you can read the law and figure it out for yourself.

Unfortunately, the Administration is in Juneau in a sea of lefties and greenies who see the ferry system as the salvation of the Tongass Forest and the prevention of a road to Juneau.   I’ve never met a conservative State lawyer, though I’ve known a few who could be objective. The State lawyers live surrounded by lefties and greenies who love the ferry system and hate Republicans. I’m proud to say that in my 20-odd years with the State, I never asked a State lawyer what I should do. I told them what I planned to do, asked them if they had any legal issues, and assured them that I’d give their concerns due consideration.

It is probably too late for the unfair labor practice findings to do anything meaningful to stop the strike before the end of the summer season if at all, but the State should persist and get an order and decision from the Alaska Labor Relations Agency so that it can use it to buttress damage claims against the union for the illegal strike. The State’s objective should be to economically destroy the IBU over this.

I always figured that few State employees would strike once they were told that they couldn’t take paid leave to strike. For the IBU, Aug.  1 is a red letter day, because if they aren’t in pay status on Aug. 1, they lose their State health insurance. If their strike goes on for over 23 days, they start losing retirement service credit.

It isn’t coincidental that the IBU’s 1977 strike ended at 20 days.

It is likely that the IBU will say it is calling its strike and will report to work on Aug. 1.   They’ll show up on Aug. 1, be in pay status and get their August health insurance and go right back on strike.  That will on cost the State about $700,000 for the August health insurance plus the wages for a day or two will be another several hundred thousand dollars; call it the better part of a million and a half bucks so the Administration can look like it is being nice.

If the Administration lets them do that, they’re idiots.

If anybody in the Administration knew what to do, the State is in the cat bird’s seat; the damage has been done. The tourist season is wrecked, the revenue for this summer season is lost, so why would you want to give the IBU anything now to come back to work.

Lay off the licensed employees other than those necessary to keep the tied up ships safe over the winter.  The people of coastal Alaska and the private sector will figure out a work-around. Look how quickly Allen Marine was able to provide transportation from Juneau to the State Fair in Haines.

[Read: Alaska Life Hack: How to get around Southeast Alaska without the ferries]

If anybody cares if there is a ferry system next spring, maybe the State will have topics about which they can talk to the maritime unions.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. 


  1. If the state gives in to the union, it’ll be giving them power over future demands. You can’t easily take back what you give.

    Fire them all, privatize the ferry system, and get our ships running again. Southeast Alaska needs you!

    In the meantime, call the national president of the IBU, Marina V Secchitano, and tell her to get her workers on those ferries or risk losing everything over this illegal strike. I did, and she responded with “all those articles are fake news” (remind you of anybody?) and hung up on me. Her cell number is public knowledge on the IBU’s website. Here it is: 415 420-1962

    I love this state. Grant ya, I came here in 2010 because NY cut my position over budgets, but still, I don’t want to leave. I want to live, work, and retire here, but if things like this keep popping up, I’ll be forced to relocate, and I don’t want to do that.

    IBU has NO EMPATHY and does not consider the consequences of their actions. Unfortunate. Down with the union is what I say. Get back to work or look elsewhere…they have no idea how lucky they are to have wages, health insurance, and retirement. Most would beg for their positions. Greedy and selfish.

  2. It is unfortunate that Gov. Dunleavy apparently is not getting the kind of seasoned labor relations advise he might be getting had he kept Art Chance on his team. Please don’t now let the State Lilliputians tie Gulliver Dunleavy up with AMHS Docking lines.

    It is to Art’s credit that he provides free advice as the union tries to use a labor action for political blackmail.

    • I’ll admit to being reticent to give them anything, but I care more about my State than I dislike cowardly political hacks.

  3. A signed copy of this should be on the Governor’s desk. Thanks, Art. I have no knowledge of union relations, as I have been fortunate enough to avoid them in my 55 years. I just know them as a scourge.

    • They are. When my position in NY was on the chopping block, the union didn’t lift a finger to help, even after I asked (I was forced to be a part of one in that state). When I taught in NW Alaska for 8 years, the union was optional, so I didn’t join. When I was being emotionally abused by community members, the administration did nothing and sided with the community instead of protecting its staff. The union, even though I wasn’t a member, said it’d help, but months went by, and they did nothing.

      Now, here in SE Alaska (which I love!) a union I have nothing to do with is screwing me over. I don’t want to tell my story because it’s nothing compared to the pain and suffering the rest of the region is experiencing.


  4. I think this is a labor union taking a shot at the rapidly shrinking Governor. They don’t have much to lose if he stays in office so I’m guessing they are just adding to the chaos. Why wouldn’t they? Have the Commissioners been hamstrung by OMB? Where is MacKinnon? Why didn’t the administration anticipate that the unions weren’t going to going along with the Governor’s program?


    Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Better get that capital budget passed or there is going to be some weight in the recall campaigns.

  5. The only place this Governor is shrinking is in the minds of some cowardly legislators and among people, mostly lefties and members of the union, education, and healthcare rackets who already hated him. He’s not lost one iota of support among the people who elected him.

    I think both you and the IBU called this wrong. The licensed marine units are generally willing to fight the State until the last unlicensed guy starves to death. With this upset brewing, the licensed units ran to safety and signed contracts. They’re sitting fat, happy, and scratching getting paid for not working. I think they might have had some sense of the situation.

    • That bit about support being lost or not is only your opinion here, Art. You occasionally lapse into the realm of the Twilight Zone whenever lefties enter your mindset and that’s all that has occurred here IMO.

      • You’re in Juneau, right? My 32 years there taught me that Juneau is the last place where anyone has any sense of what’s going on in Alaska politics outside Juneau; it’s just a leftist bubble where even most of the small band of Republicans lean left.

        • Art, I’m in Juneau. It’s terrible, all it is filled with is leftys. Thankfully we have a handful of blue collar workers who still support the right and agree with everything you said. Thanks Art!

        • There are a lot of educated folks there and so it’s not so surprising that they would all lean left, Art. You want lean right, then get to Mat Valley.

          • Smart and leftist are not synonyms. College educated and leftist usually are for anyone under about fifty and for anyone who went straight from school to government, media, arts and entertainment, or the non-profits. For younger people educated and brainwashed are synonyms.

            Anchorage is now paying the price for pulling so much of State government here. The Park Strip/South Addition/Turnagain area of Anchorage is as crazy as downtown Juneau and Douglas. Even back when I was still working I’d come up here and drive down Minnesota/L Street to the Cook and there’d be more of those blue and white “War is not the Answer” signs here than there were on 10th Street and Chicken Ridge in Juneau.

          • Art, nobody said a thing about leftists. Big difference in lean left and leftist. And you never disappoint whenever you get the chance to take a poke at Lefty. Heheh!

    • Tell it to the Native Corporations and the AGC. His support is visibly and objectively shrinking as he blows political capital on incompetence. What did Mr. Spencer say? Not Michael Corleone but a bad mix of Sonny and Fredo?


      He didn’t hire you? Was that a good move Mr. Chance? Hindsight being 20/20?

      • It was a good move for me. The AGC will be fine, even the Democrats, especially the Democrats can’t give up the federal money because that is all that is keeping Beltrami’s private sector guys working and keeping them from coming after him with pitchforks. The Corps are contemplating actually having to do something to help their shareholders with the money they make rather than laying it all on the State. There are a lot of buildings in Anchorage that are worth far more than the village that has its name on it.

        • I rarely disagree with you really. The reason my support faded almost immediately was when I got a gander at Ms. Ardiun’s track record in crony prison privatization. I’m not a corporatist, I think I’m a paleo-corporatist. I don’t see anything conservative about giving your country away to multinational corporations. That seems to be the only theme of this administration besides statutory PFDs and raw meat for the MatSu crowd.

          • I, too, am very opposed to private prisons, in fact to privatizing any police or ministerial function of government. If you privatize a function you’d better really like your contractor because the first thing he’ll do is form a PAC and start passing out contributions and you’ll never get rid of him no matter how badly he performs or how corrupt he becomes.

  6. Great job, Art. You provided some historical background, political perspective, and basic legal interpretation. And I agree…..the biggest defenders of the ferries are SE Lefties.
    Questions: would Dunleavy be better off politically by going to full privatization of the marine highway? Or, dismantle the current structure by hiring non-union employees to fill virtually every position from captain to ordinary seaman and janitor? Or,…..what about leasing the assets (ships, terminals, offices) to a private contractor?
    You need to make some recommendations, with preferred alternatives, to the governor.

    • There is no hope for privatization. You cannot run passenger ships under American law without heavy subsidies.

      The Dunleavy Administration and I are not really on speaking terms except I know at least some of them read MRAK. First, I believe there is no substitute for the AMHS in the Southeast outports. We run to Haines and Skagway because of lefty/greenie opposition to a road from Juneau to Haines. Sometimes I think Haines is opposed to membership in the human race. We serve Valdez to save Valdez residents from a long, tough drive to Anchorage in bad weather. We serve Cordova because the NIMBYs in Cordova don’t want a road built on the old Copper River and Northwestern right of way, owned by the State, to connect them to the road system at Chitina.

      The Kennecott cross-Gulf service is principally for the benefit of military and other transferees who can pack their stuff in a U-Haul, take the ferry, and save a lot of their moving allowance. I don’t see a substitute for a ferry to Kodiak but it shouldn’t be a competitor to private shipping. The heavily subsidized ferry system has chased all other shipping out of the Kodiak and Aleutian/Bering Sea market other than container shipping. Most of the ferry traffic west of the Kenai Peninsula is to subsidize the commercial fisheries industry in getting their equipment and personnel to the Western/Southwestern Alaska fishing grounds.

      If I were in charge, I’d stop serving Prince Rupert and Bellingham. I think getting out of interstate commerce could get us some regulatory relief. Staying out of outside waters would eliminate the cost of SOLAS compliance except on the Kodiak run or an Aleutian run if it were maintained. The best travel agents for the AMHS mainline runs are the APD and the State Troopers. DWIs make it a real hassle to travel through Canada, so the ferry takes them to Bellingham.

      I’d contract out the management of the system and maybe even create a ship master position that is the management representative on the ship, though that would be an unpleasant job being surrounded by people who want to kill you. The AMHS deck officers are very good at the safe operation of the vessels. As a general matter they couldn’t care less about costs or efficiency and leave all disciplinary issues to shoreside management. The State’s classification system guarantees that AMHS management will come from the CG, the Navy, or from other Jones Act shippers, all of which live in a cost no object world. There are plenty of companies in the World that know how to run a shipping line efficiently, even under restrictive US law.

      I’d put strict limits on vehicle size and weight to stop the AMHS from being a subsidized competitor to private freight shippers. We really need to develop a private shipping economy for island/coastal Alaska. There is a good whine in the Juneau Empire about the hardship posed by the ferry not bringing freight to Gustavus, a nice little refuge for hippies and Juneau people rich enough to afford a cabin over there.

      I’d sell the mainliners as I could replace them with day boats or short distance point to point boats. I’d buy a Tustumena replacement of about the same size; putting the Kennecott on that run is a gigantic waste of money.

      And finally, I’d help elect a Governor who was willing to take a strike that lasted at least a couple of years; the marine unions aren’t giving up their gravy train easily. They will strike and try to defeat the Governor, and it will be all of them, not just the relatively weak IBU. The marine unions believe that the System exists for their benefit; we need a Governor who is willing to make it exist for the benefit of the State of Alaska.

  7. Art, Does the IBU have a right to strike? And if the IBU believes that the contract is no longer valid, then wouldn’t the State have the right to hire all new workers? And if the IUP believes that the contract is no longer valid, then the State is not obligated to pay any health insurance costs? Here is contract wording on strikes, etc:

    “14.04 There shall be no strikes, lockouts, sympathy strikes, slow downs or stoppages of work during the term of this Agreement, it being the intent of the Employer and the Union that all disputes be settled in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement. Notwithstanding this, however, no employee working under this Agreement shall be required to board any vessel of the Employer that is being picketed by any union in connection with a lawful primary strike sanctioned by the National President of the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific. Employees who refuse to cross such picket line shall be placed in Leave Without Pay status.

    • Dave, there is no way I can answer that question without it becoming a very, very dense lecture on collective bargaining under the Alaska Public Employment Relations Act (AS 23.40.070-260), so the best I can do here is broad strokes and bright colors.

      First lets start with some definitions. The legal duty to bargain is over “wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.” Anything that clearly fits within that duty is called a mandatory subject of bargaining. The law forces either party to give good faith consideration to a proposal on a mandatory subject but doesn’t compel a party to agree to a proposal. Parties can bargain about other things, but they can’t be compelled to consider a proposal; these are called permissive subjects of bargaining. And finally, there are some illegal subjects but that isn’t really at issue here.

      IBU’s contract is expired and the no-strike clause is NOT a mandatory subject of bargaining so it does not survive expiration. Under the PERA IBU has a right to strike, albeit with some limitations. So absent the contractual limitation of the expired no-strike clause, they have a legal right to strike.

      I do not believe that the current strike is legal because I think the IBU has committed unfair labor practices. A valid state of impasse is the factual predicate of a strike. An unfair labor practice is a bar to a valid state of impasse.

      So, short answer, while IBU does have a legal right to strike. It’s current strike action is not legal because it has committed unfair labor practices.

  8. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think this is the dumbest move ever made… work for a system that loses money every year and you go on strike because you haven’t had a raise in two years. Good Lord, so many workers in the private sector go five years and beyond without a raise if they have good health insurance because they understand the cost to provide that insurance. These state workers have health insurance and retirement and think that the 3000 people they just shafted will feel their pain. The state will have to return the money that would have paid their wages–let ’em all go. What is it with government employees and their inability to see the financial condition of the State of Alaska—- all thinking this is 1985 and everything one can imagine is there for the taking. Gov. Dunleavy is forcing us to see the reality that Juneau has been ignoring for the most part of a decade. Kudo’s to him for making us understand our situation and what has to be done to keep us viable. A strike is absolutely crazy.

  9. Art, you are a thinking man! Thank you. I’m going to copy your answers and mail to Dunleavy. Suzanne must feel honored to have you onboard with MRAK.

  10. When I heard that the IBU paid nothing for their health insurance, that did it for me. The GGU employees b*tch for paying approx. $100 a month for their premiums. It might be more now, but it isn’t much in the big picture of life. But to pay nothing? And they are on strike? What a clown show. This is about the Governor, not about their package. I’m sure the guy that didn’t know how to make change for my cup of coffee the last time I was on the ferry wishes he had his job back right now. Pretty sure he doesn’t have the skills to get a job anywhere else.
    The administration is foolish to not have you on board during this mess Art. If they have some millennial stumbling around trying to figure this out they are screwed.

    • I’m told their head of labor relations is a real go-getter whose experience as an apartment rental guy really prepared him for dealing with billion dollar contracts.

  11. Literally just sat in a hotel restaurant (Landing in Ketchikan) while a woman, who is a striker (right across the street) came in and ordered two beers while sitting at the bar bragging about the strike and urging people to call the governor and “put them back to work.” Uhm, THEY STOPPED WORKING. Makes me so mad.

    I didn’t say a word. Proud of myself.

  12. Tim, which ferry is in Ketchikan right now? Is any state ferry worker living on it for free?

    • I don’t believe the state workers are living on it for free…that would most definitely be an illegal action during a strike (setting foot on “company” property during work hours). If they are, then I am unaware of it.

      The Columbia and the Kennicott are in Ketchikan right now. I’m still trying to get myself and my vehicle to Metlakatla…might happen tomorrow. Hopefully.

      It just really bothers me to see these strikers taking time off to drink beer and brag about their actions when the entire region is in turmoil.


      • The Engineers and Deck Officers are not on strike, so at least some of them are on the vessels. No IBU employees should be on the vessels.

        • Correct 🙂 Those IBU employees shouldn’t inside bars either. In my opinion, of course 🙂

          I’m grateful to the engineers and deck officers helping those stranded passengers who are in a more difficult situation than I. I should be going home today, after an additional $1,600.00 that I won’t get back. That’s after my refund.

          Ugh. Thanks, Art, for all you do!

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