State ordered to negotiate on ferry contracts

Board says state must deal with three unions and not insist ferry employees are represented by one

Posted: Friday, January 16, 2004

The State of Alaska has been ordered to "cease and desist" its refusal to bargain with a maritime labor union over employee contracts for the new fast ferry Fairweather.

The state has not decided whether it will appeal the decision made by the Alaska Labor Relations Agency, a state board that resolves labor disputes.

The Fairweather will begin making runs between Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Sitka in May 2004. Unlike mainline ferries, the Fairweather will operate with a smaller crew and employees will not work overnight shifts.

Last year, the state refused to negotiate with three separate unions representing employees on the ferry and insisted they pick one representative for all employees.

"We believe that the qualifications and working conditions of fast-vehicle ferry employees are so different from those of the traditional (mainline) vessels that the employees of the fast-vehicle ferry should be in a separate bargaining unit," Department of Administration labor negotiator Art Chance said in November.

The Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, a maritime union that represents licensed marine engineers, filed an unfair labor practices complaint after the state tried to establish a separate bargaining unit to negotiate with the three unions.

The two other maritime unions - the Inland Boatmen's Union, and Masters, Mates and Pilots - have filed similar unfair labor practice complaints with the state. Masters, Mates and Pilots represents licensed deck officers and IBU represents unlicensed deck employees such as seamen, pursers and stewards.

On Tuesday, the Alaska Labor Relations Agency issued a bench order calling on the state to begin negotiations with the marine engineers' union.

"There is nothing we are aware of in the Public Employee Relations Act regulations or case law that would authorize an employer like the state to create a bargaining unit and decide its appropriateness in the process," the decision read. "The employer does not choose the employees' representative or whether there will be a joint petition by a consortium of unions."

MEBA Business Agent Ben Goldrich said he has not yet been contacted by the state on when negotiations will begin.

"I would hope this order is abundantly clear, and we expect the state will hold to the order," he said.

Jean Ward, a hearing officer for the labor relations agency, said the state could appeal the decision once the complete memorandum of the unfair labor dispute is released.

"It's a priority for the agency to get (the memorandum) out," she said.

Kevin Jardell, an assistant commissioner with the Department of Administration, said the state is waiting for the complete memorandum to be issued before deciding whether to appeal.

"The state will move on in good faith to comply with the order," Jardell said.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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