Turn out the lights, the party’s over

Art Chance
Art Chance


Thursday is Aug. 1.  That is when the Inland Boatmen’s Union employees lose their health insurance for August.

The State pays two weeks behind, so the IBU members have one more paycheck or partial paycheck coming to them. Unless the governor and commissioner of Labor get a “stupid attack,” the strikers aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance, and the union has a minimal, if any, strike fund.

In a week or so, this gets really serious: The tourist season for independent travelers that might use the ferry is over. The only part of the Marine Highway that ever breaks even is the mainline runs and Northern Southeast in summer; that’s gone. From September until May, the ferry system runs mostly empty vessels and hemorrhages money.

Without the ferries, the people of Coastal Alaska and Kodiak will find a way. Without subsidized competition from the State, private shippers may enter the market, though I doubt they’ll try to enter the passenger market, except maybe in summer or for some special events: Southeast Alaska State Fair, Gold Medal Tournament, and Celebration come to mind.

I saw a whiney story in the Juneau Empire about the homesteading community of Gustavus not having any freight service other than the ferry, but the ferry serving Gustavus is a new thing, dating back to Gov. Frank Murkowski. Gustavus got along fine without ferries before.

It should be remembered that vast areas of Alaska, an area much larger that the ferry service area, have no transportation options other than air travel, skiffs, fishing boats, and summer-only barge service; they get by. There will be additional expense and some inconvenience, but the citizenry will adapt.

At this point there is no reason to give the IBU anything to get them back to work. They’ve wrecked the summer season with an illegal strike. The State should have filed an unfair labor practice against them, got a decision, and then sued the IBU for damages. The State obviously listened to its lawyers. If you listen to State lawyers, you will never do anything remotely aggressive; they’d prefer that you just never do anything.

The State Labor Relations Agency always avoided lawyers on its staff and avoided having any more contact with the State’s lawyers than absolutely necessary; all they did was make things cost more and take longer.  When I was there, I broke down and changed the minimum qualification for the journeyman level labor relations staff to allow qualification with a law degree simply because the schools had become so dumbed down that it pretty much took a law degree to get anything like logical analysis and a decently written English paragraph.

It was always a problem with the marine unions that they had a very limited professional staff presence in Alaska.   The Masters, Mates, and Pilots never had any Alaska staff or even an Alaska office; that’s technically illegal but nobody much cared; there are only about 100 of them. The IBU had offices in Juneau and Ketchikan, but they were staffed by people from the rank and file, not labor relations professionals. The Engineers had an office in Juneau and Greg O’Claray was their rep for many years.

O’Claray was a skillful political manipulator. I feared him on Election Day, but not in a hearing or negotiation.  All of them used lawyers for any advocacy and called in staff from Outside when any big deal was going on.  Generally that Outside staff had a lot of ego and a very little knowledge of Alaska or the situation.

I don’t think blue state union representatives have changed since I retired and I knew them pretty well. When AFSCME first took over the General Government Unit, they sent national staff out to deal with the rubes in Alaska. I’ll confess to being a bit intimidated at first. We were accustomed to dealing with local independent associations and a few old-fashioned trade unions. We had an adversarial relationship with them, but it was generally collegial. We could pound the table and call each other names all day and adjourn to the bar and critique each other’s performance. The blue state union reps were used to the charade that is collective bargaining in the blue states.

Generally the union owns the government and anything that looks like an adversarial situation is really just a charade to make it look like the government is putting up some resistance to giving the union whatever it wants.

Even though the State spent 20 hours with a federal mediator and the IBU’s California reps this weekend, I’ll guarantee you those union reps were casting about trying to find that certain someone in State government that they could pay off and get a deal.

In my last years with the State I had to have several sidebars with labor arbitrators to tell them that we weren’t running the usual Left Coast charade in which the arbitrator tossed the employer a few crumbs to brag about and gave the union everything it wanted.  I had to tell them that it really was an adversarial proceeding and we wanted an actual, legal decision, and if the arbitrator gave the union what it was asking for they’d get it when I ran out of courts to appeal the arbitrator’s decision to – and I did appeal decisions to the courts and get them reversed.

It doesn’t take much of that to make arbitrators behave. Blue state labor relations is hopelessly corrupt and when you bring reps in from those blue states, they expect to find the same corruption.

The State erred in this negotiation by allowing them to reach impasse in the face of illegal proposals on the table. The State erred by not filing an Unfair  Labor Practice complaint over those illegal proposals and the illegal strike. I think it is foolish to go to mediation because mediation is an impasse resolution tool under AS 23.40.200(a)(2) and there can be no valid impasse with an Unfair Labor Practice in play. Further, mediation is the factual predicate to seeking an injunction to return the union to work.

I never thought the State could prove a threat to public safety from a ferry strike, but you never know what an ambitious Superior Court judge might think. I know I wouldn’t let it go to Court in Juneau or Ketchikan.

In sum, the people will adapt. The union and the media will do a charade of starving babies and mommies dying of cancer because they can’t get to the doctor, but it will all be a charade.  The IBU should be sued for damages and should spend a long, cold, hungry winter out of work.   I don’t know if the MM&P would condescend to handle lines, but it would be good if the vessels could be moved to Ketchikan and laid up there.  The licensed employees not necessary to maintain the ships in layup should be laid off.   They’ll complain, but the State should win, and all the employees have to do is sign up at the hall and they’ll have work somewhere.  If anybody cares whether there is a ferry system next spring, maybe the State will have something to talk to the IBU about.

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. Delusional once again, I’m sorry it probably took a few hours to write this and nobody will take it seriously

    • Actually, it took about 15 minutes, and hopefully it will send even more lefty idiots like you into a tizzy.

    • The IBU is not negotiating in good faith. They are striking to change the budget. Not to mention they shut it down because they said the administration would shut it down. We can not survive without the ferry so they shut it down. Now who is delusional?

      • Jack, I can guarantee you the state budget is not part of negotiating. Has it brought attention to the drastic budget cuts, yes it has.

  2. As an independent voter I try and read every angle. This article however is slanted to a degree that is off the pious chart.
    Worst article I have read on MRA

  3. Art, are you accusing the IBU of paying off some state negotiators? What evidence do you have? I can’t even believe MRA would have you on staff after your resigning ( that’s what you do to avoid being fired) from the current administration. Why was that again? Oh that’s right “Dunleavy takes a chance on Art Chance” ( Google it) your disgusting and unqualified to represent the state in any capacity. Did MRA cover your story, I might donate if they do.

    • Well, genius, I only represented the State under four Governors. My name is on the appearance line of hundreds of arbitrations and labor board decisions and I’m signatory to hundreds of contract modifications and full labor agreements. As director of labor relations I and people who work for me negotiated 28 discrete labor agreements, all of which were approved by the Legislature with no debate. I’m pretty confident that I know a whole lot more about this business than you, Jeff Landsfield, or, for that matter, anybody in the Dunleavy Administration.

  4. Absolutely agree. I lived in Gustavus from 61-68. No ferry service. Got along just fine. Encourage the people of the various communities to become business-people. Help them start their own transport systems. Help that they, of course, have to repay when their business gets “on it’s feet”. They get to become independent, provide jobs to their community, and gain dignity. All good.

  5. The IBU made a serious mistake by calling their strike during a time when many Alaskans find themselves looking at the impacts of reduced Government spending. The strike cost the State the velocity (or multiplier) affect that tourist dollars create. These needed dollars are gone forever and many angry non residents who were willing to spend them will likely not make the same mistake twice.
    The Strike is enormously unpopular. And the public is generally against it. As a former labor law lawyer, ( sorry Art ) I can tell you that negative public opinion will ultimately be its downfall. No tears are being shed for those who illegally walked off the job leaving so many holding the bag. It may be time to start advertising these positions as available and make permanent replacements. There are many Alaskans who would be delighted to have one of these good jobs.

    • My issue isn’t with lawyers, labor law or other, qua lawyers; my issue is with the culture of the Alaska Department of Law and particularly in Juneau. Hell, some of my best friends are lawyers!

    • Finally, if there are so many Alaskans wanting these jobs, why is there always a high vacancy rate? Why do they have to go out of state searching for employees? With further cuts to the education system the problem will only get worse as less in state training will be available.

      • That’s simple; so few Alaskans can pee in a bottle or pass a background check. It doesn’t take much education to be a Steward, an AB or OS; the real issue is not being a screw up, and a whole bunch of the Alaska potential workforce are drugged screw-ups with criminal records.

  6. Blah, blah, blah. More rich Republicans justifying the pillage of the public’s interest by other rich Republicans. Hang it up, boys. Time for you to join the dinosaurs and Neanderthals in the dustbin of history.

  7. Art, my guess is that these comments are from SE Alaska residents who see another sinking subsidy slip from their lives. Or, they are just union loving, government Democrats. Actually, it could be all of the above. Great piece. You hit this one out of the park with your often brutal honesty. Is Gregg O’Clarey still living in Juneau?

    • Just State employees acting like State employees; been there, done that. They’re even more obnoxious when they’re only a few feet away from you and as much as you want to, you can’t hit them.

  8. The really sad thing is that so much of the State is ignorant about the role the AMHS plays and could care less. This strike a disaster for S.E. and Kodiak and will be largely unnoticed throughout the State as a whole. The actions of the union of cooks and bottle washers, (and bed changers), will cause long term damage to the AMHS and immediate pain to the regions that support Ferries!

    Rural Alaska enjoys a huge Federal Subsidy by means of “BY-Pass” mail, a Federal program which “keeps them flying” ! This service is provided by NAC- Everts Air and Lynden to name a few. Southeast and Kodiak better start looking into a Marine version of By-Pass.

  9. Vast majority of Alaskans could careless about a Ferry system. Sell the damned vessels and move on building the Railroad to the L48.

  10. The lower paid IBU members are being sacrificed as political pawns by the other richer, more powerful govt unions (NEA, AFT, IBEW, Teamsters, etc) to keep the SCOTUS Janus decision from being implemented in Alaska. The Janus decision negated the requirement of a government employee to join a union to keep a job. One does not have to join the union to keep a job. That is the huge issue here. The govt unions are trying to get the Dunleavy Administration to violate the SCOTUS decision and the Rule Of Law. IBU members are useful tools.

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