State, ferry workers at impasse; strike imminent



Talks are now at an impasse between the State of Alaska and the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific (IBU), one of three unions that represent Alaska Marine Highway System state workers. IBU has rejected contract offers made by the State.

The IBU has announced it will strike as early as Wednesday.

IBU represents approximately 430 unlicensed crewmembers on state ferries who perform the unlicensed work on vessels, including the deck, engine and hospitality side of ferry operations. The other two unions have agreed to contracts, and IBU is a holdout.

“Contract negotiations have been ongoing since December 2016 and, every offer – including concessions on pay increases, lump sum payments, and benefit enhancements – has been turned down by the IBU,” said Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka.

“Over the course of two-and-a-half years, the State met with the IBU 38 times, only a few of them with the Dunleavy administration, and participated in mediated sessions to address its requests in good faith. It is our goal to agree to a contract that is fair and equitable to both IBU employees and the State. We bumped up our last offer 25% because we do not want to disrupt coastal operations in the height of Alaska’s tourism season,” she said.

The Department of Administration is responsible for negotiating state worker union contracts.

One of the existing contract terms the union seeks to eliminate is the current cost of living differential, which ensures equity by preventing employees who live out-of-state from receiving a higher salary than their counterparts who live in-state.

The IBU wants all out-of-state employees to get the same salary as Alaskan employees. The IBU further requests uncommon wage increases – increases most other unionized state employees have not received – and that the State continue covering health care costs with no contribution from IBU employees.

During the latest negotiations, the State sought to keep the existing cost of living differential, to offer wages that are fiscally responsible and fair to employees, and to require employees make health care cost contributions of $60/month for individual coverage and $160/month for family coverage.

The State offered a one-time lump sum payment of $1,500 to offset employee health care costs that would be included with employees’ first paycheck in January 2020.

Under the previous administration, the State offered IBU employees a 5% pay increase over 3 years, but IBU rejected that offer as well. 

The IBU wants a 9 percent pay increase over the next three years, free coffee and water for employees on the ships, and giving workers the power to choose which ships they work on.

If agreed upon, this would effectively take away the State’s ability to manage the ferries and its employees in the most efficient, safe and cost effective manner possible.

“We are disappointed that the Inlandboatmen’s Union is considering an economic strike against the Marine Highway System. Our offer, in context with other labor contracts, is fair on economic terms,” said John MacKinnon, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation.

“This is the busiest time of year for the Alaska Marine Highways and a shutdown of the ferry system will impact residents, visitors and commerce,” he said.

“At this time, we will focus on the safety of the passengers, crew and vessels. We plan to return ships to safe harbor with adequate shore side support and contact ticketed passengers to work with them to continue their journey, reschedule or offer refunds,” MacKinnon said.

“Our leadership team at the DOA has made every effort to address the IBU’s requests without further compounding our State’s ballooning deficit. It would be a dereliction of our duty, both to the IBU and to all Alaskans, for us to enter into a Bargaining Agreement that would benefit the IBU in the short-term but would further imperil the health, well-being, and future of all Alaskans in the long-term,” Commissioner Tshibaka said.


  1. It is graphically evident that there is no longer anyone in State government who knows anything about collective bargaining. How can they be at impasse and threatening an immediate strike when they have an illegal proposal on the table? The PERA requires that there be a cost of living differential in all labor agreements that reflects the difference between Seattle and Alaska. That’s old language because the economics have changes, but there still has to be a cost of living differential. IBU’s proposal to eliminate the COLD is a proposal on an illegal subject and thus and unfair labor practice, which is a bar to a valid state of impasse, the predicate of a strike.

    If there were some of that thinking stuff going on someone might figure out that it is late July. It will take a couple of months at minimum to adjudicate an unfair labor practice complaint on the illegal proposal. Two months from now it’s September and who cares if the ferry workers strike; it saves the State money. When I dealt with the ferries, “See You in September” was my theme song.

    • Once again Art, you’re behind the times. The state has been trying to get rid of COLD for a number of years, including an attempt by the legislature a few years ago, which was only stopped as it would have been interfering with active ongoing negotiations.

      • It remains the law. It should be changed from only Seattle to a more general geographic area. If the State strictly adhered to Seattle, we’d pay non-residents more.

      • Stopping a legislative action because it might interfere with ongoing negotiations is an action that somebody would take if they didn’t know what they were doing, were deathly afraid of unions, or were owned by unions.

  2. Governor, Mike

    Remember, you make your best deal when you are willing to walk away.

    1.. Where the hell are they going to find a better deal?

    2. . Cut a deal with the airlines to subsidize aircraft flights from S.E. Alaska to Alaska cities that the Ferry served.

    3. Cut a deal to subsidize car rental’s to drive costs lower
    throughout Alaska ports that the ferry served.

    4. Tell the Ferry Unions to take a hike. They won’t find a better deal anywhere.

    5. Reduce the compensation package by 1.5% for every month they stay out on strike.

    • One other solution , Hire a state negotiator that has experience . Hire Art Chance as he was and is the best thst ever was.

  3. I donated because I like your shtick. Now don’t blow our relationship with begging and posting my personal info on bathroom walls where channel 2 gets it’s stories.

  4. One other solution , Hire a state negotiator that has experience . Hire Art Chance as he was and is the best thst ever was.

  5. Fake news by a writer who has no idea what she is talking about. The truth is that the State wants to cut income and benefits to ferry workers. If you think that is an acceptable deal you are a special kind of idiot.

    • did you miss that the skilled employees have reached a deal and inked a contract? How does that support your theory?

      • Whoa! You want to tell me who’s up on the bow in Wrangell Narrows, in a snowstorm? Yeah, it’s that “unskilled” AB. Who’s keeping those engines running? The “unskilled” wipers doing the dirty work. Even the bed changers and galley workers need a STCW credential. Once again, Downing presents a partisan view.

  6. The Cooks and Bed Changers aboard the AMHS threaten to abandon ship and leave everyone stranded over paying 60 bucks a month into their own healthcare?

    Meanwhile the Masters Mates and Pilots have come to term with the State, the same Guys and Gals who drive the ferries through the Wrangell Narrows at night in a snow storm. A most valued skill set juxtaposed to manning the galley…

    Dunleavy should replace the lot of them immediately, this being a Reagan moment. Coastal communities are full of folks willing and waiting to take these jobs at the wages offered..

    • Bring your own sleeping bag, pillow and cooler of food and drink. Like the old days of hanging out in the solarium. Untie and set sail. Wave to the strikers standing on the pier. Bye!

      • Garnet
        not so simple
        The IBU Union workers have to have USCG/ TWIC documentation as well be able to pass a drug test on a regular basis. that is why it is so difficult to hire and retain employees within the AMHS. One does not just walk in and go to work on the ferries. The USCG requires Everyone on board the ship to be drug free and have documentation. . you just do not know what you are talking about.

    • not so simple to replace these workers

      The IBU Union workers have to have USCG/ TWIC documentation as well be able to pass a drug test on a regular basis. that is why it is so difficult to hire and retain employees within the AMHS. One does not just walk in and go to work on the ferries. The USCG requires Everyone on board the ship to be drug free and have documentation. Most of the AMHS workers have walked on the private side. you just do not know what you are talking about.

    • Here I am stuck in Ketchikan because the cooks and custodial help. Please have them come back to work long enough to get us out of staters home. I paid a lot of money and have a contract with AMHS to take me to Bellingham. Once you get us all off the ferries then you can hammer out a compromise. Or just fire them all.

    • There is a lot more to it than “paying $60 bucks for their healthcare”! And the state is only telling the “partial truth”. One example. yes, they did offer a 5% raise, but it was offered verbally, not put into writing and they wanted to take away a lot of other things in trade that would have cost the workers a lot more than the 5% (over 3 years) they would have gotten. So yes, the state is telling “some of the truth” but they are definitely not telling the whole truth. And it wasn’t the workers who walked out of the last negotiating session – it was the state! Also, since you think being a cook or “bed changer” is so easy, why don’t you go live on the ferry for a week or two at a time, sleeping below the car deck with the noise of the engines running. And you can deal with all the crabby people or kids running all over the place unattended trying to keep everyone safe. Or how about cooking 3 meals a day for several hundred people, or cleaning all those toilets, not to mention the showers that people like to shit in or all the puke all over the place, not to mention dealing with up to 500 kids at a time running rampant tearing shit up and having to keep the entire ship clean. These are the people that are in contact with the public, not the captain, the pilot, or most of the others with what you call the “most valued skill set”. Of course, there is always that wonderful little part where you can get held over if your replacement doesn’t show up, so then you get to work an extra shift – so now you are out there for an extra week or two weeks, depending on which ship you work on. I could go on but I won’t. I feel from your comment that you are the type that looks down on waitresses, the garbage collectors, and any type of customer service job because they arent licensed! No, I don’t work for the ferry system, but my father-in-law did from the time they ran out of Tee Harbor until he died in 1987 – he was a bosun, my ex-husband did from 1978 until he retired about 5 years ago, and one of my sons has been there for over 15 years now – at the age of 19 and after working for a year as an EMT and a firefighter. They are hiring by the way because a lot of people don’t want to do the job they do or they don’t want to be away from their families or they can’t because they won’t pass the Coast Guard requirements to get their Merchant Marine cards, or they just plain won’t pass the piss test. So sorry if I sound angry, but I am. So tired of hearing how the state is trying so hard to negotiate and the workers should just be fired because they aren’t cooperating! Wrong!!

  7. While this unnecessary strike might seem like yet another bit of fall out from the governors inflexible, uncharismatic, unsophisticated negotiating style I would remind you that he was elected and simply cannot have the flaws he so clearly displays.
    Follow the leader. Follow him off the cliff.

  8. Holy moly, that’s insane. Thanks for writing this. I haven’t seen anything on the IBU negotiations at all. It’s pretty clear why…

    Do they want the ferries or not?

  9. 38 meetings and they still can’t see the writing on the wall? Someone should remind them that there are many people looking for work, who would be thrilled with any kind of paycheck, never mind their bonuses, built in raises (seriously, no one does that in the private sector!) and would happily pay only $60 a month for health benefits. These folks need a walk on the private side, to appreciate what they have been offered.

    • What bonuses? What automatic pay raises. The three maritime units are not in the step in merit system that the rest of the state workers are in. Please explain where you got your information.

    • Tiani R Heider
      As a 24 year AMHS Employee the 3 unions do not have Merit or step increases like other unions shoreside or in other departments within the state. Further There has never been a Bonus paid. the closest thing to a bonus is when the AMHS owes backpay. The IBU Union workers have to have USCG/ TWIC documentation as well be able to pass a drug test on a regular basis. that is why it is so difficult to hire and retain employees within the AMHS. One does not just walk in and go to work on the ferries. The USCG requires Everyone on board the ship to be drug free and have documentation. Most of the AMHS workers have walked on the private side. you just do not know what you are talking about.

      • If you’re a US citizen, not a felon, and drug free, it really doesn’t take anything more than applying to get an MMC, a TWIC, and a clean pee test. You have to do as much to get a job above minimum wage in retail.

        • Sorry Art. Doesn’t appear that you’re an expert in everything. I highly suggest you research what it takes to get a MMC and a TWIC. Most minimum wage jobs in retail usually don’t do criminal and FBI background checks. It’s not simple and it requires time and money.

      • Thank you!! So tired of all the bashing on the workers. I have never worked for AMHS but my father-in-law did from the time they went out to Tee Harbor until he died, my ex-husband did for almost 40 years, and my son has been working there for over 15 years now. People need to consider that maybe the state isn’t telling the WHOLE truth, only the part that paints them in a good light and makes the workers and the IBU look like the villains.

  10. I think the ferry workers should just be happy they have jobs in the current state budget climate.

  11. Wow….never read such a biased article…how much did Suzanne get paid by the state to take their side?!

    • Dirt, please tell us the other side. The University has presented their side. The legislators who covet our PFD have presented their side, even sending out general emails to my personal account. Having been a union member for my 31-year railroad career, I would be empathetic to a union’s position if they would state it reasonably.

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