Update: Striking ferry workers, state reach tentative deal

    Members of the Inland boatmens Union at a recent press conference.

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The state of Alaska and the union representing striking ferry workers on Friday announced they have reached an agreement that could end the work stoppage that cost millions of dollars and stranded passengers in coastal communities.

    Terms of the three-year deal will not be disclosed until Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific members ratify the agreement, which could come as soon as Monday, state officials said.

    "It's a win-win situation," Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka said during a teleconference. "It's good for employees, it's good for Alaska, and that's what really matters"

    A federal mediator participated in the negotiations. Tshibaka said both sides made concessions and compromises concerning wages, health care and the length of the contract.

    Union spokesman Robb Arnold did not immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press.

    However, the union's president and chief negotiator, Marina Secchitano, is quoted in a news release from the state saying they are pleased with the deal. "This new agreement addresses many of our members' concerns," she said.

    It was the first strike for the ferry system since 1977, when the dispute lasted 20 days.

    The ferry system is an important link to many small Alaska communities not connected to the state's limited road system. The ferries operate along 3,500 miles (5632 kilometers) of coastline, stretching from Bellingham, Washington, to the Aleutian Islands.

    The state was working Friday to bring the ferries back online, and the earliest any could sail would be Saturday, Department of Transportation Commissioner John MacKinnon said. Expected to get back into service first would be day boats like the Tazlina and Aurora.

    "Our goal is to get this system back in operation according to its published schedule and continue to provide service to the coastal communities," he said.

    The union representing about 430 ferry workers went on strike July 24 over wages, health care and uncertainty for their future amid budget cuts.

    MacKinnon said as of Thursday afternoon, the state had to refund about $3.2 million to 8,300 passengers and 2,300 vehicles because of the strike.

    "That is a big revenue hit to the system, and that loss of revenue will impact our ability to operate in the future," MacKinnon said.

    The biggest disruption came when two ferries, the Columbia and the Kennicott, were en route to Bellingham but docked in Ketchikan for the strike, stranding passengers.

    "It was hard to get them out of Ketchikan," MacKinnon said of trying to get passengers to their destinations. He said some stranded vehicles were put on cargo ships for the final destinations, but some passengers and their vehicles still remain stranded in Ketchikan.

     

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