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Bill would cut Alaska ferry workers' salaries

Posted: March 6, 2014 - 1:21pm  |  Updated: March 7, 2014 - 12:04am

JUNEAU — A bill pending in the Alaska Senate would strip state ferry workers of their cost-of-living adjustment.

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, said his goal is to get ferry workers in line with the rest of state, the Alaska Public Radio Network reported.

The bill comes as marine transportation unions are negotiating contracts for the next three years. If the bill passes before an agreement is reached, Alaska ferry employees could lose $8 million in wages, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

The Alaska Marine Highway System is the only branch of state government that sets its minimum salary on Seattle’s cost of living. Alaska employees receive a cost-of-living differential. That difference can end up being $10,000 or more.

“My view is it brings more fairness and consistency into those contracts,” Dyson said.

Alaska ferry workers have enjoyed the cost-of-living differential for the last 40 years, allowing them to be paid more than those who do not live in the state. Because the ferry system serves communities ranging from Bellingham, Wash., to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, it is one of the few state agencies allowed to hire out-of-state employees.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, called the bill “troubling.” He worries it will have a chilling effect on bargaining between the marine unions and the state.

Ben Goldrich, with the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, said cost-of-living adjustments have traditionally been discussed in bargaining.

Goldrich said he worries Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration is using the bill as leverage. The way the bill is written, it would go into effect immediately after being signed into law. That could put pressure on unions to accept a deal before then to avoid losing the cost-of-living differential during the upcoming contract period.

Dyson said the administration spoke with him about the cost-of-living differential.

Dozens of ferry workers came to testify before the Senate State Affairs Committee during a recent hearing. There was a nine-page list of names of people who signed up to oppose the legislation.

Dyson, who chairs the committee, allowed four to speak before testimony was closed to the public.

“We got a lot of work to do, and I doubt if any new information has come out,” he said. “So, we got to limit it somewhere.”

The committee has 30 other bills it’s assigned to hear before the legislative session ends, and he said people had the opportunity to offer written testimony or call in if they were not heard.

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Steve Davis
Steve Davis 03/06/14 - 01:34 pm
nice grammar

nice grammar Mr. Dyson....all voices need to be heard regardless of the length of the list.

Janice Murphy
Janice Murphy 03/07/14 - 07:40 am
Darrel Issa wanabe

Dyson needs a lesson on what his job is. I believe part of it is to listen to the public instead of thinking that he is a seer and knows, before hearing it, what is going to be said. Let's see, make public notices all but unavailable, cut off public testimony because we already know what's going to be said. Remember Mr. Dyson, to the people there to testify, their time is worth something and they most likely "got a lot of work to do" too. Just who do you think you are? Darrel Issa? Oh right, monkey see, monkey do!!!!!

P C 03/07/14 - 10:10 am
It won't make any difference

Many legislators don't care about the public comments. They already have their minds made up before the meetings even start. I hope you all get the opportunity to sit in on a meeting when comments are teleconferenced. They sit there rolling their eyes at comments that go against their bills. Not all legislators do this, many really care but there are those who just don't. They have their own agenda.

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