Alaska labor deal reached to end 10-day ferry strike

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Alaska officials and the union for striking boat workers have reached a deal to end a walkout that has shut down the state’s ferry system for 10 days at the peak of the summer tourist season, the parties said on Friday.

The new three-year labor pact, capping marathon negotiations overseen by a federal mediator, was agreed to late on Thursday, officials said. Terms of the deal, still to be ratified by rank-and-file workers, were not disclosed.

About 420 deckhands and other members of the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific (IBU) walked off the job on July 24, idling a ferry network that serves more than 30 coastal and island communities statewide. Ferry boat pilots and engineers, represented by separate unions, were not part of the job action but refused to cross picket lines.

It was the first strike in 42 years against the state-run ferry system, known formally as the Alaska Marine Highway System. The walkout cost the state an estimated $3.2 million in lost revenues and forced reimbursement of nearly 11,000 passenger and vehicle fares, transportation officials said.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which reconvened bargaining after talks broke down on the eve of the walkout, said the deal “effectively ended” the strike.

Ferry service was due to resume on Saturday on a phased-in basis, state Transportation Commissioner John MacKinnon said in a statement.

The Marine Highway System, an iconic Alaska institution, operates a fleet of about a dozen blue-and-white vessels, all named for Alaska glaciers.

Most of the Alaska communities in the ferry system lack outside road access and can be reached only by plane or boat. Among them is Juneau, the state capital and Alaska’s third-largest city, and Kodiak, an island city that is a major U.S. seafood port.

Union leaders called the strike after three years of on-and-off negotiations deadlocked over disputes on such issues as scheduling, work conditions and pay, with the union seeking salary hikes of 9% over three years.

“This new agreement addresses many of our members’ concerns,” Marina Secchitano, the union’s chief negotiator, said in a joint statement with state officials announcing the deal.

Striking workers also were protesting deep budget cuts in the ferry system, including a plan to halt service in some areas for several months over the winter.

The strike has been “tremendously disruptive,” said state Senator Jesse Kiehl, who represents Juneau and nearby ferry-dependent communities.

Among other problems, it interrupted delivery of groceries and raised local food prices, he said in an interview. In Gustavus, a town at the edge of Glacier Bay National Park, prices of milk and eggs doubled over the course of the strike, he said.

Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage; Editing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Susan Thomas and Sandra Maler

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