P.O.W. Report: Sell the fast ferries - fast - Must Read Alaska
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Wednesday, October 27, 2021
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P.O.W. Report: Sell the fast ferries — fast

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The Juneau Empire reported Wednesday that the Department of Transportation intends to sell the fast ferries F/V Fairweather and Chenega in the coming months.

Ferry staff will be reassigned without any expected job losses, although they will technically be laid off this month.

The newspaper reported officials saying the state will begin operating at least one new ship this year, the F/V Tazlina, and expects to save about $400,000 in fuel costs by retiring the 15-year-old Fairweather.

Let’s be frank here for a moment: The Alaska Marine Highway System’s union model is outdated and once again shows how the tyranny of a small fraction of overpaid public employees are terrorizing the majority of us who barely make ends meet from month to month.

That’s the truth. I worked for the AMHS for one week. My entire job was to make sandwiches and salads and I was earning $21+ an hour.

Does that make sense to you?

During that week I also racked up a bunch of overtime and my paycheck for that week was more than most people make in a month.

Does that seem fair to you?

I was the bottom rung-entry level position employee, so, take a moment to imagine how much the rest are paid.

I wrote an editorial here responding to a citizen who made the crazy claim that “oversized PFD payments the governor proposes will harm Alaska…”

Read that again: “oversized PFD payments the governor proposes will harm Alaska…”

Let’s take our emotions out of the budget argument for a few seconds. Southeast, Alaska and Prince of Wales Island in particular has the highest unemployment rate in the state. We also have the lowest income in the entire state.

So, when it comes to getting $3,000 dollars in the Fall vs $0 because a minority of over-paid state employees want to keep their cushy jobs, the answer for what makes a difference to the poor and under-paid Islanders is easy:

$3,000 makes a huge difference.

When is the last time you used the Alaska Marine Highway? Once in the last five years? Does that merit you losing $3,000 a year?

Now, I get our kids use the ferry system for sporting events, however the kids in sports are a minority of the school population. Is it worth your child losing $3,000 for someone else’s kid to go to a basketball tournament in Petersburg?

These are all fact-based questions that we should be asking ourselves instead of getting emotional because you read some article from a newspaper and heard some talking points from a paid news anchor.

The AMHS, needs to change. And it will be difficult. It’s better to make the hard decisions now then keep kicking the hard decisions down the road like cowards.

The fast ferries should never have been built. We all know this. They cost too much, can’t navigate the channels efficiently, and are run by over-paid employees who constantly complain they don’t get paid enough.

As far as i’m concerned, good riddance! I’ll take my $3,000 dividend so I can pay off my credit card after paying to get my car fixed that broke down unexpectedly. Nobody expects me to get a bailout, so why does the AMHS expect the same?

Arthur Martin is the editor of POW Report on Prince of Wales Island.

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • A good read and the way the majority of Alaskans feel. Minority rule is what got us to this point!

    • Thank you. America and The West was never meant to be ruled by the unaccountable minority leaches. Unfortunately, we forgot our history and now believe that the loudest voices can oppress the majority of us if they scream loud enough

  • So you are saying you want government assistance because you don’t have the wherewithal to go it on your own. So you’d rather destroy the ferry system. GTFO! Can’t fix your car without government assistance? Time to get a job.

    • It’s not government assistance to get your contractually obligated royalty payment as promised. I don’t fully own my land due to the effective leasing done by the state, and they are trying to weasel out of paying their end of the deal.

      • Eliza, you can’t logic with these people which is why I intentionally wrote this article in an emotional and rhetorical way. They can’t argue with logic so they would rather their kids go without college funds and call us bad names for calling them out for their BS.

    • Oy Vey! Clearly you can’t read past the third paragraph.

      When’s the last time you used the ferry system? Or are you one of those AMHS employees that i’ve worked with that like to bitch about not getting paid enough?

    • The PFD is not a government assistance program. Not yet, but Alaska bureaucrats are trying to tell us it is. The PFD is part of royalties paid to Alaska residents as owners of the State of Alaska and therefore are shareholders of the oil and other mining revenues.

  • I’m going to miss “em. I had a few good rides on the fast ferries. But, I had just as much fun and good company on the slow ones.

  • During my time as Port Steward for the AMHS we where fighting constantly against the featherbedding of the union contracts; if the ferry would dock 5 minutes late on crew change day, the entire crew would receive 2 hours of overtime. A storekeeper would receive a penalty time whenever he/she was loading ship supplies. These are just a few of the ridiculous Union contract provisions.

    • It’s sad. My dad worked as a Merchant Marine down south and it’s much the same and worse…most MM workers aren’t even American any more they are foreigners.

      As per your example, the few ruin it for all of us…aka…the few AMHS public employees are trying to tax the rest of us.

      I don’t hold any ill will against them either. I understand it. My pops and I worked for AMHS and it’s a kicks ass job and the retirement benefits are insane!

      And that’s what’s killing us…just look at Kawasaki’s latest proposal to introduce early retirement for public employees–this is why! It’s way to F&@&(ng expensive.

    • No such thing as a “port steward” or “penalty time”

  • How about putting our an RFP to sell the AMHS and see who will propose. Sounds like an opportunity for Lynden Transport.

    • Lynden is a Monopoly though…the same basic crap will happen with them. They increased Freight prices last year I believe 60-70%.

      Good suggestion though. My concept is for each town to have their own ferry service. Like the IFA does.

      • The IFA receives money from the state, for operating, as well as packages passed by the legislature for shipyard work. If the ferries shut down how will that make your life better? You seem to think that as a licensed Mariner I make too much money working for the state, the truth is it’s taken me 20 years to get to where I am and I could make more working somewhere else. I like living in Alaska, and will continue to do so even if the Ferries shut down. I realize the PFD is very important to many people in the state, but what did people do before the PFD? The Ferries were here before the PFD. The current budget proposal will change the state more than people realize. I understand the PFD is more important to some than transportation, education, and the host of other cuts. I’ll be fine.

        • “I realize the PFD is very important to many people in the state, but what did people do before the PFD?”

          Patrick, I wrote a very smart rebuttal to this already: https://www.powreport.com/2019/02/over-sized-pfd-payments-will-harm-alaska-lol.html

          As for your face value on AMHS vs IFA…the IFA gets 250K from the State, the AMHS…gets 150$million if I believe correctly.

          Let’s be honest here mate, don’t mistake an honest critique of the system for a personal insult of your hard work. Obviously there are employees like you that worked their way up and deserve the position. Not with standing, the system is screwed and everyone know it…including you and it’s not sustainable.

    • The only hope is to get the AMHS out of interstate commerce by dropping the Prince Rupert and Bellingham runs. Once it is in-state only we can challenge the US’s jurisdiction under the Jones Act and other maritime legislation and maybe get some relief from the anti-competitive laws and regulations. Stopping those runs would mean that Alaskans with DWIs and other criminal convictions might not be able to drive Outside since they wouldn’t be able to go through Canada on the AlCan, but they should have thought about that; Alaska Airlines is ready when they are and they can rent a car down South or keep one there.

      There is exactly ZERO possibility of privatization under current US law; the system cannot be operated without subsidies anywhere or anytime, except maybe Northern Southeast at the peak of tourist season. I would privatize the management; there are plenty of companies that can run a steamship line efficiently, and some even profitably. AMHS has no management and no real employee supervision on the vessels. In twenty years of doing labor relations for the State I never had ONE disciplinary action on a vessel employee that was initiated by the vessel’s officers.

      • The laws and regulations you speak of are the same for all passenger ships, set by the USCG, EPA, and Alaska DEC. Vessels have USCG licensed Mariners. Why you would want to throw out good paying jobs for your fellow citizens (that put money back into the local economy) in favor of low paying foriegn workers is beyond me. Your comments about disciplinary action, maybe that was the old system, I personally know several people that have been fired for violations of company policy.

        • You’re beating your head against a wall Patrick. Most people don’t recognize any difference between the 6pack charter boat skipper and an actual merchant mariner. To 95 percent of the State a captain is a captain is a captain.

          They completely gloss over the fact that to earn the right to get paid $21/hr to make sandwiches, you have to:

          1) Obtain a USCG MMC
          2) Obtain a DHS TWIC
          3) Complete Crowd Control/Crisis Management
          4) Subject yourself to random drug testing
          5) Pass USCG Physical at every renewal (for unlicensed, licensed require annual physicals)
          6) Complete security training based on your duties. Not intensive if you’re only making sandwiches, but still another hoop.

          It’s also convenient that the person who quit his $21/hr job seems to have completely forgotten that in case of a fire or emergency, he had responsibilities that included:
          1) sweeping passenger cabins to get passengers to muster stations
          2) sweeping/blocking stairwells and passageways to prevent passengers from straying away from muster stations
          3) directing passengers in the safe operation and donning of survival equipment
          4) directing passengers in life rafts
          5) supporting and assisting fire teams in fire fighting efforts.

          There’s more, but I’ve been away from AMHS for almost 5yrs now so can’t speak for the rest.

          I can probably come up with hundreds of jobs that have less requirement and less responsibility that pay more.

          Like I used to always tell the Department of Administration:
          Think of the worst possible 30 minutes you could have sitting behind your desk, then think of the worst possible 30 minutes you could have on a 450ft ship with 500 passengers…….

    • You should hang down your head for that comment.

  • I wonder if Gov Dunleavy would consider publishing weekly ridership for each vessel. I’ve heard lots of stories of people traveling on a near empty boat.

  • Maybe(?) … The SOA should consider selling the entire AK Marine Highway System to a private company. Privatization might very well bring about efficiencies, cost savings, as well as better service. In my opinion, this would be smart move.

  • From 1972- 1980 the state requested offers from private company’s to operate the Steward department. I worked as Port Steward for the AMHS with these companies and supplied them with data as requested by them., After they spend the time to consider an offer to the State, they backed out the main reason the ridiculous Union Contracts and low passenger counts during the offseason. One company made an offer but the state would have to cover the cost overruns and supplement the losses they would have.

  • Pass legislation to prohibit the sailing of routes between two ports that have roads between them. Yes 40% to 50% of sailings could be eliminated and more than a couple of terminals closed if this legislation were to be passed. The savings of the cut sailings between ports that can be driven between and the elimination of terminals would make the AMHS self sufficient. As it is at present it is run to create sailings to give the crews 24 hour sea time plus hazard duty. Cooks on a 24 hour ship make almost equal pay to captain’s on the day ships. It’s the unions that are driving this train wreck.

  • So you used to get paid for making sandwiches? Now you want to get paid for doing nothing. You’ve got a funny definition of “cushy”.

    • I used to get OVER paid for making sandwiches AND salads, perhaps to some AMHS employees doing both things warrants overtime and 40$ an hour i’m not sure.

      Ask the McDonalds employees how much they are paid making burgers.

  • I am curious. If you were paid $21.00 per hour to make sandwiches, why did you quit after only one week? You know of course that if AMHS goes down, so too will the Inter-Island Ferry Authority. It’s interesting because in their beginning the IFA said they would pay for their operations out of the till box. We now know that none of that was ever true.

    • Sure I’ll answer this. I turned down 21$ an hour for unsteady work for a much less paid job with the IFA.

      And no, if the AMHS goes down the IFA will not. Sure the IFA depends on 30% of it’s budget from the State however we are talking about 250K vs 150 MILLION.

      As for your in the beginning…the AMHS has promised for decades to improve it’s deficit and it’s only gotten worse.

      Look, you’re an AMHS employee (i’m guessing) don’t take honest criticism of the system for a personal insult.

      • Arthur, your IFA leadership said last week that they we’re going to crumble if AMHS folds. The size of the subsidy does not matter. The IFA will lose theirs too. No subsidy, no operation. It will be a sad time for everyone.

        • And the Icebergs will melt and all the polar bears will die if the AMHS folds and doesn’t get its subsidy from the State.

          See how rhetoric works? It’s kinda fun making stuff up and exaggerating to get what you want.

          • Your advice is well taken. Good luck.

  • Good luck getting around the Jones act as long as you run between two us ports you will have to follow the law.
    In order to get around it you need to go to a foreign port.

  • You are a Hack! This is one of the most inaccurate articles I have ever read, void of facts and full of unknowledgeable opinions. Professional Merchant Mariners of unlimited tonnage and horse power are paid for for their Credentials and training. AMHS is already paying officers at the low end, good luck trying to find “non union” senior level officers to work for less than they currently are.

    • Not an argument Scott. And you didn’t give me a single rebuttal to any of my points showing me how I’m wrong.

  • Isn’t the ferry system also subsidized with our federal income taxes? Alaskans are paying with both federal and Oil revenues OR reduction of PFD’s as it starts to unfold.
    Start with the following:
    1. Ferries to be used only in Alaska to get between towns with out roads.
    2. Fast ferry’s are also limited and costly, where the slower ones are only limited on time from one port to another.
    3. Thank you Governor for trying to save us from ourselves. I got your back as I know you have those of us who work hard to to make a living.
    In the mid 70’s I was standing in a line with folks asking for food to feed my family when I realized it was up to me to feed my family not others. That is when my wife and I moved from the east coast to Alaska so my wife and I could make a life for our family.
    I say thank you from those of us that get what your intended goal is, TO LIVE WITHIN OUR MEANS.?

  • I can’t help but wonder who was in the Governors office and administration back at the turn of the century when these vessels were conceived?

    They have been a budgetary flop since they came online. They were designed with center tunnels that are 5ft. lower than conventional high speed catamaran design dictates so they can line up with existing docks. Sounds like a good idea until you stove in the bow in North Lynn Canal in 6′ seas……..6′.

    Sadly this modified design “feature” means that they will have a limited appeal to potential buyers.

    Lets not even get into the decision to replace the engines under warranty with the identical engines, knowing full well they had a corrosion issue and wouldn’t last 10yrs. Even when the engines maker recommended the upgraded engines…………………….

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