Ferry problems not union's fault

Letter to the editor

Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The state would like the public to believe that the reason a contract agreement can't be reached between the state and the three ferry unions is because the unions are unwilling to be reasonable. The union representatives have been working long and hard since last spring to try and get the state to present something fair to replace the expired ferry workers contract - the Fairweather employees have been working without a contract since day one.

Since the Fairweather took more than two years to be built, don't you think they could have started negotiations before it was actually delivered? The problem is that this administration despises unions, and was hoping to be able to crew the new fast ferries with nonunion employees instead of seasoned sailors. Would you want to put your life in the hands of a person new to ships on a fast ferry in the Lynn Canal in the winter?

The Fairweather employees have to be the only state employees that haven't been paid for state or federal holidays and are not accruing vacation. They were told when they were hired that they would be year-round employees. Many gave up other lucrative positions to work on the first fast ferry in Alaska and now with no notice - they are jobless. The state was planning to cut down the one crew and lay off 15 employees. Maybe they finally realize that they made a mistake with fast ferries in Southeast Alaska. They can't handle the winter weather - and they burn twice as much fuel as Leconte or Taku - ships that can handle the weather. They could have learned from Washington's or British Columbia's mistakes - they got rid of their ferries. But, they had to spend millions to make their own mistakes - and now they blame it on the unions.

It was all about cutting labor costs. They would have you believe that ferry workers are overpaid. The basic steward wage has gone up only $.90 in seven years, like other state workers get. What worker in the private sector would stay with a job that only pays $.90 more after seven years? Now that the union contracts have expired and they are finally asking for a raise - the administration acts as though they are unreasonable. Ferry workers are your neighbors just trying to make a decent living while providing you with safe and reliable transportation.

Marilyn Lee


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