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For ferry employees, it's Ketchikan or bust

Workers given 90 days to decide to stay or go

Posted: Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Ferry system administrators got the official word Tuesday that their jobs will move to Ketchikan next fall, with or without them.

Most employees now have 90 days to decide whether to move with the Alaska Marine Highway System or find work elsewhere. But during an afternoon meeting with Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Tom Briggs, many employees said they still don't have enough information to make the decision.

Lynn Escola, an administrative manager with AMHS, said many employees are still wondering how much the state will pay in moving costs. She said only three or four of her colleagues, of about 40, have said they will make the move. Some have already resigned.

Briggs told ferry workers that their jobs will move in three phases. The first group of 20 employees will begin work at the new ferry headquarters at Ward Cove in Ketchikan on Sept. 1. Eleven more employees will follow on Oct. 1.

A third set, also of 11, remains under review and may be transferred at a later date or kept in Juneau, Briggs said. Employees that choose not to make the move will be officially laid off by the state.

Some ferry employees asked if they would have to wait until the fall to be laid off and collect unemployment and begin training for a different state job. Briggs said he did not know, but that he would work with the state to allow them to enter laid off status this summer if possible.

DOT also issued a memorandum to all ferry system administrators on Tuesday asking them to sign a document saying whether they would make the move.

The form told employees to reply within 30 days, but Briggs said they are under no obligation to tell DOT their plans until the move happens.

"We'd like to have it as soon as possible, obviously, but there's no requirement that they give it in 30 days," he said.

He later said the questionnaire requesting an answer in 30 days was a drafting error and would be rewritten and distributed to employees.

"Those letters are all screwed up and we signed them; that's the bad part," he said about an hour after the meeting.

Briggs said if employees who are laid off cannot be replaced immediately, they will be replaced temporarily by employees from a private company. He said those jobs would eventually be filled by full-time state employees.

Briggs and AMHS General Manager John Falvey denied speculation that the move is an attempt to privatize the system.

"That's not true," Falvey said. "And I think if you come to interview us six months from now, you'll find out that isn't true. That's not the intent."

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com.



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