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Alaska ferry union reaches deal with state, bringing potential service back to Prince Rupert

Ferry workers have reached a tenative deal with the state
Juneau Empire)

Prince Rupert could potentially see its ferry service to Alaska resumed after the worker’s union reached a tentative deal with the state’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The ferry system services communities from Skagway to Bellingham, Washington, with a stop in Prince Rupert. Last year, there was an average of 790 passengers a week and 314 vehicles.

The Inland Boatman’s Union of the Pacific (IBU) reached a tentative deal with the state and t the agreement will soon be taken to the membership for ratification, wrote Robb Arnold, IBU’s regional vice-chair, via text message to Juneau Empire, an affiliate of Black Press.

“Alaska is moving forward!!!” Arnold wrote in the text.

READ MORE: Mayor Brain scheduling multi-stakeholder meeting to save Alaska ferry in Prince Rupert

“Before midnight we came to a tentative agreement,” Arnold told the Empire by phone Friday morning. Until the union membership ratifies the vote workers are still technically on strike. But as a gesture of good faith Arnold says that workers have stepped down from picket lines.

Arnold couldn’t say when ferries would begin running again but did say that the union was, “working with the administration and want(s) to move as quickly as possible.”

DOT and the governor’s office could not be immediately reached for comment.

“We’re happy we can go back to work and the state is open for business,” Arnold said.

Arnold said that union officials were working to get the vote out to membership as soon as possible and that “by the end of the day we should have a ratification vote.”

He couldn’t speak to the specifics of the agreement until it’s been ratified but he did speak positively about the state’s negotiators and the federal mediator.

“She’s the one that made this thing happen,” Arnold said of the federal mediator. “40 plus hours of negotiations, it was amazing,” he said. “A lot of work to make this thing happen.”

READ MORE: State refunds passenger fares as Alaska ferry strike goes on

Ferry workers went on strike July 24 after nearly three years of negotiations with the state. Among the reasons for a strike cited by the union were no wage increases for five years, one year instead of three year contracts, and the use of overtime instead of hiring more workers.

The union also noted the significant cuts to the ferry system proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. In a July 24 press release union representatives said, “the Governor cut 46 million dollars out of the (Alaska Marine Highway System)’s operating budget, slashing ferry service to the communities that depend on us for their lifeline.”

The strike was divisive for many members of the public with some expressing support for the ferry workers while others expressed frustration and anger at being stranded during their summer vacations.

In an email sent to the Empire on July 29, representatives from the AMHS said that refunds had been issued to over 6,500 passengers totaling over $2.8 million in fares.

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IBU Alaska Chairman Earling Walli helps union members sign up online for the ratification vote inside a converted school bus at the Juneau ferry terminal on Friday, August 2, 2019. (Peter Segall
Juneau Empire)
IBU regional vice chair Robb Arnold, left, celebrates with IBU members at the Juneau ferry terminal following a tentative agreement with state officials on Friday, August 2, 2019. (Peter Segall