Alaska state ferry workers authorize strike as contract negotiations continue

Laurel Andrews

A union representing nearly 600 workers in the Alaska Marine Highway System announced Tuesday that its members have authorized a strike should the union and state fail to agree on a new contract.

Ninety-nine percent of workers represented by the Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific, Alaska Region, who sent in their ballots voted in favor of the strike authorization, said Rick Deising, regional director of the bargaining unit.

The negotiations hinge on a disagreement over the cost-of-living adjustment. The state hopes to lower the cost-of-living differential from 22 percent to 5 percent for new members only, a change Department of Administration Commissioner Curtis Thayer said would more accurately reflect the cost of living. Thayer said the COLA allowance costs the state $10 million annually.

The union hopes to preserve the current COLA allowance. Deising said the state "wants to hire people for the same work at a lower wage." In April, the bargaining unit sent out 550 strike authorization ballots, and of the 417 returned, all but 8 members voted to authorize a strike.

The union has been negotiating its contract with the state since Dec. 17, Deising said. The next set of negotiations is set for June 10-11, and the current contract expires June 30. The union intends to continue work after June 30, even if negotiations continue, Deising said. The union's national president, Alan Coté, would make the final call whether to strike.