Alaska ferry workers strike for 6th day contract talks break off
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[July 30, 2019]
By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A federal
mediator on Monday suspended contract talks aimed at settling a strike
that has shut down Alaska’s state ferry system at the peak of the
tourist season, with services to more than 30 coastal communities halted
for a sixth straight day.
The strike comes amid deep budget cuts for the state-owned ferry
network, known as the Alaska Marine Highway System, with services to
several communities scheduled to cease entirely at the end of the summer
and not resume until the summer of 2020.
No new bargaining sessions were announced between the administration of
Governor Mike Dunleavy and the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) of the
Pacific, which represents more than 400 deckhands and other state ferry
employees who walked off the job last Wednesday.
It marked the first strike in 42 years against the state-owned ferry
Most of Alaska's ferry-served communities, including Juneau, the
capital, can be reached only by boat or plane and depend on the vessels
for passenger travel and deliveries of groceries, seafood catches,
vehicles and other items. The network also provided services to the
ports of Bellingham, Washington, and Rupert, British Columbia.
Union leaders said they called the strike after contract negotiations
that have dragged on for three years reached deadlock. Talks resumed on
Saturday under the guidance of a federal mediator, with both sides
largely adhering to a news blackout.
Late on Monday, however, the Dunleavy administration said the mediator
“has recessed talks until a later date” following more than 20 hours at
the bargaining table, and that ferry operations "remain suspended."
There was no precise reason given for the break in negotiations, but
Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka accused the
union of seeking "wage offers that are not legally permissible."
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“The strike is unlawful because it is based on demands that are
illegal under Alaska law,” she said in a statement.
Robb Arnold, vice chairman of the IBU's Alaska regional board, said
it was not a breakdown in talks, but "It's a break."
"The mediator's smart," Arnold said. "She knows what's at stake and
she's trying to keep us going."
Arnold said he did not want to comment on state officials'
assertions that the strike is illegal.
He said there has been progress toward an agreement, but that he
could not provide details.
The IBU’s last three-year contract with the state expired in
mid-2017. The union, whose rank-and-file have worked since then
under short-term extensions, has accused the Dunleavy administration
of bad-faith in negotiations and labor violations.
The state said the strike has cost the ferry network more than
$200,000 in revenue a day. Dunleavy, a Republican in his first year
as governor, has said he wants to privatize the system.
On Monday, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont joined two other
Democratic presidential candidates in voicing support for the
strike. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris of
California previously used Twitter to back the union.
(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage; Editing by Steve Gorman,
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