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State and ferry captains union agree to keep negotiating on contract

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- State labor negotiators and a union representing ferry captains have agreed to keep talking, allaying fears of an imminent ferry strike.

"We've reached a letter of agreement with the state that both sides have signed and are going forward with negotiations, and possibly binding arbitration," said Ron Bressette, representative of the International Association of Masters, Mates and Pilots, which represents the Alaska Marine Highway System's deck officers, including captains.

"There won't be any job action this weekend; that's off the table," he said.

MMP is one of three unions representing ferry crews. The Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific's members approved a contract this week; the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association says it is close to reaching an agreement with the state to send its members for approval.

When MMP members rejected the three-year contract agreed to by its negotiating team it raised the threat of a strike, but Department of Administration Commissioner Curtis Thayer said they'll now be able to continue to use the expired contract while negotiating a new one.

Wednesday's agreement "extends the negotiation period, avoiding the risk of a strike by MMP members that would disrupt service to Alaskans that rely on the Alaska Marine Highway System," the department said in press release late Wednesday.

The new negotiations may continue to include a federal mediator, and may also result in binding arbitration if either side declares an impasse, Bressette said.

But those provisions may not be necessary, he said.

"My hope is that we can resolve it and come to an agreement through normal negotiations," he said.

That could enable any final contract provisions to be included in the state budget submitted by Gov. Sean Parnell, making legislative passage easier.