IBU strike debriefing: All’s well that ends

Art Chance
Art Chance


I had some pretty harsh words for State Labor Relations and Law over the Inland Boatmen’s Union strike. I stand by my words that they got blindsided and were completely unprepared for the strike.

The first time the IBU mouthed the word “impasse,” the State should have filed an unfair labor practice and had them ordered back to bargaining. I’m told that the Department of Law was afraid the Alaska Labor Relations Agency would order the State to arbitration. I hope nobody in the Department of Law was giving that utterly stupid advice to the Administration. I’ve been in similar situations and the reality is that your political principals just won’t follow your advice sometimes. Sometimes they don’t even ask; they ask somebody they met at the Baranof Hotel the night before and don’t even bother to ask the people who get paid to do this stuff.

Let’s put all that behind us. They took about an 8 count, pulled themselves up off the floor, and fought back. I’m told that Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka went to the table and pressed for a settlement. Good on her for taking charge.

In my time I’d have never let a union representative near a commissioner; I would rarely even see a union rep myself.   You make sure that the union understands that they work themselves up to that meeting, and if they get face to face with an appointee, it had better be a damned big deal.

They haven’t published the text of the tentative agreement that ended the strike against the State ferry system, but I’m told the union got no raise the first year, and 1.5 percent the second and again the third year. The workers will eventually start contributing to their health insurance. One ship crew got free coffee. If the State ended a strike and got a three year agreement on these terms, they fell in the outhouse and came out smelling like a rose.

I’ll reserve my final judgment until they publish the full agreement; you can hide big bucks in the fine print of a labor agreement, but if they got them back to work on the advertised terms, they did one helluva job; good on them.

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. I agree Art (about falling in the outhouse and coming out smelling good) and my thinking here is that the public opposition to their strike probably gave some impetus to their (union) taking this deal to get those ferries back online.

    • Despite spin to the contrary, the strike was a win for the union. While every other public service was being cut, the union received a raise and an improvement in working conditions. The union flexed it muscle and the governor made concessions. /story
      As far as public support. Whenever I went by the ferry terminal people were honking and giving the workers on the line thumbs up. I even saw people stopping to give the guys food.

      • One of the things I liked most about dealing with lefties was how utterly delusional they are. The union got a wage increase over three years that would be lost in the rounding errors in DOT&PF’s budget. It foolishly cost the AMHS the better part of $10 Million bucks in lost revenue, refunds, and additional expenses, and only God knows what the lost reputation and good will is worth

        Now, John McKinnon, John Falvey et al. are going to have to figure out how to either get the Legislature to give them an increment to cover those losses; good luck with that, or figure out where to cut back ferry operations to cover those losses.

        Were I advising the Legislature or the Governor, I’d be struggling over whether to let the Legislature disapprove the contract or just send the monetary terms over but not ask for the increment; it is easy to make a union pay for a wage increase; you just lay off enough people to cover it. The Governor can’t legally suggest that the Legislature disapprove the contract; his agents negotiated and signed the tentative agreement, but if he sends over a specific request for an appropriation to cover the necessary increment and either body refuses to pass it, the contract is disapproved as to its monetary terms, and the union gets to go back to the bargaining table and have a gut check over whether they’re willing to strike in winter. I always welcomed the idea of a ferry strike in winter; it would save the State a lot of money, but I never could get them to do it.

        Oh, and, genius, when you drove by the ferry terminals in Fairbanks, Wasilla, Anchorage or rural Alaska, was anybody high-fiving the picketers and bringing them food. There are more people in any two zip codes in the Railbelt than it all of coastal Alaska, and people in the Railbelt really don’t care about the ferry system.

        • “people in the Railbelt really don’t care about the ferry system.”
          Clearly “we don’t care about others” is an attitude to celebrate and promote.
          That’s the sort of Alaska I want to see: one in which people don’t care about each other. Together we can build an Alaska based on greed.

      • Boy Adam, I sure don’t see it as a win for the union. The AMHS has taken a huge financial hit and may not recover from the damage this strike has caused.
        These union folks have this on their hands and my feelings are that in Juneau they don’t have much support. The Union reps. should have known the seriousness of the situation IMO, and they took advantage of these workers who were somewhat demoralized over the budget cuts to their system. In other words, the workers got played.

        • We’ll have to agree to disagree. I think “a raise, job security and improvement in conditions” in a year of draconian budget cuts is a win.
          And example of why everyone needs a union. Imagine the if seniors who are getting thrown to the wolves could threaten to damage the economy. Dunleavy would make a deal and this blog would explain why that means Dunleavy is strong.
          Weak governor, strong union.

          • Adam, it does appear that some healthcare issues were settled in favor of employees to their benefit. So we don’t disagree, totally.

  2. Adam is delusional. He apparently sees the 10 million dollar revenue loss by the AMHS as inconsequential. Well, it is not: we citizens are paying for it, and can expect costs for the system to increase with the distrust and reduction in tourist utilization the unions have caused. It seems that everyone involved in the strike recently got gored, making this a perfect example of why unions in the public service sector should be disallowed. Our state was held hostage while our people were hurt. Adam must be somehow insulated from those financial losses personally to deduce the strike as a union victory. Thanks to Governor Dunleavy for his quiet and strong leadership. He is doing what we asked of him.

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