Letter: Ferry employee contracts do not belong in the Legislature

I am writing in opposition to SB 182. This topic does not belong in legislative discussions nor in state statutes. It is a contract topic and the Alaska Department of Administration is very capable.


I began working for Alaska Marine Highway in 1981 and have been a chief purser for over 15 years.

The claim that bonuses are given to in-state Inland Boatmen’s Union employees is not true. A historical perspective reveals the two-tiered wage system for the IBU was introduced to protect Alaska residents while SAVING the state money. In 1980, state IBU residents were given no extra money. Instead, the meager “cost of living” increases were withheld from those living out of state until the non-Alaskans were paid 20 percent less.

Several times since then, sure that hordes of scoundrel sailors were defrauding the treasury, the state has created positions to look for violators. The expense of these positions far exceeds any lost revenue. In the 1990s, three full-time people were hired for three years. To cover the cost of those positions, 1/3 of all AMHS workers (about 250 people) had to be lying about their residence for a number of years. It was a bust; no IBU members were found to be paid in error.

The claim that COLD payments are unique to the maritime unions is also false. Various forms of Cost of Living Differentials exist throughout state contracts. Depending on the region where they work, other state employees are given 3 percent to 50 percent more per hour than their counterparts in Anchorage. Cost of living differentials are common in other state and federal contracts.

I understand some covet my job. We’re hiring next month. Come join us and give up your annual step increases, forget wine with dinner, your child’s concert next week or their birthday or first game, tell your spouse to fix the drain themselves or wait a week or two until you come home for them to take a shower, and no, you can’t pick up the dog’s prescription at lunch.

If the contracts were as padded as purported, there would be a substantial wait list of good applicants for hiring. Instead, the number of Alaskan applicants has been so low that the AMHS is permitted to recruit nationwide for entry-level jobs. Sadly, we haven’t seen 2,000 applicants per year since the 1980s. In the last few years, even with recruiting, we only get a couple hundred, and of those, the state has been able to hire far fewer.

Mary Dahle

Ward Cove


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