State looking for nonunion workers to crew Chenega

Marine engineers union lawyer says he may file a grievance for unfair labor practices

Posted: Sunday, July 03, 2005

To speed up the effort to get a crew for the state's fast ferry Chenega, the state is advertising the jobs on its recruitment Web site, Workplace Alaska.

State negotiator Art Chance said the state is still honoring the bidding process with the three ferry unions, but also has the option to seek employees elsewhere.

The Chenega has been scheduled to serve Prince William Sound communities this summer but has not left Auke Bay because the state and unions cannot agree on a contract.

When a new ferry such as the Chenega comes online with the Alaska Marine Highway System, the state must give job preference to the unions, which are the Inland Boatmen's Union, the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association and the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots.

But no agreements were reached by a deadline that passed Wednesday, and now the Division of Labor Relations within the Department of Administration is looking for nonunion employees.

"The new employees must join a union within 31 days," said Chance, or they lose their jobs, as contracts say that employees must be unionized.

Chance said when the state hired crew members for the fast ferry Fairweather, nonunion employees were hired from outside Alaska. Preference is given to Alaska residents, he said.

Joe Geldhof, a Juneau-based lawyer representing MEBA, said he may file a grievance for unfair labor practices if the situation warrants a lawsuit. Chance is trying to create a new bargaining unit, when the unions have exclusive bargaining rights, Geldhof said.

Seeking nonunion employees does not mean negotiations have stopped with the unions, Chance said.

The latest proposal offers workers housing in Cordova, or a travel allowance of $70 a day in addition to their salaries.

But the most apparent disagreement still lingering over the negotiations is that the state wants to operate the Chenega four days a week with one crew, and the unions want two crews and sailings seven days a week.

"We would like to run the Chenega seven days a week, but we can't afford it," Chance said.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at

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