In two instances this week, the spokesman for the Inland Boatmans Union of Alaska has said the strike is about budget cuts, and that wages and health care benefits are side issues.
In an Associated Press news story, Robb Arnold let it slip: Wages and other conditions are side issues compared with how workers are frustrated by the lack of communication on what cuts to the ferry system budget could mean to them.
Side issues? That explains why, after the state negotiators agreed to four items on the list of six, the union just backed away from the table and called a strike.
They said it was about a 9 percent raise they are demanding. And free coffee. And free health care insurance, without any copay.
But in fact, Arnold has shown that the strike is about the overall budget cuts to the ferry system, which will greatly reduce ferry runs this winter.
It wasn’t a misquote. Arnold on Thursday wrote a bylined story published in the Alaska Native News blog, in which he again made the point:
“A key issue in the dispute is drastic cuts in service for dozens of Alaska communities that depend on the State’s legendary Marine Highway. Ferry workers have joined with those community leaders and small business owners to keep ferries running in remote areas of the state that have no affordable transportation alternative,” Arnold wrote.
“Instead of working on a contract settlement that can keep the ferries running, the administration wants to slash service and leave thousands of customers in those communities stranded. Alaska can’t work if dozens of communities lose their lifeline to keep businesses operating and medical appointments from being canceled. We’ve been standing-up to help ferry service survive, and today’s action is part of that commitment,” he wrote, quoting himself in “Ferry Workers Take Strike Action after Governor’s Negotiators Frail to Act” (sic).
Commissioner of Administration Kelly Tshibaka has already called the strike unlawful because one of the union’s stated points — the Cost of Living Differential — is on the strike justification list, making it an illegal strike.
She has called them back to the table to continue negotiations and said she doesn’t want to escalate the matter by taking the union to court. Arnold, however, said the state has escalated the strike already by calling it illegal.
If Arnold is telling the truth in his statements, then the strike is evidently not about what is on the list of grievances the union has published, but has to do with expressing displeasure over the Fiscal Year 2020 budget cuts.
And that may also make it an illegal strike.