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State claims unions acted in bad faith

Unions deny claims of being uncooperative in ferry negotations

Posted: Wednesday, July 06, 2005

State labor negotiator Art Chance filed a complaint on Friday that charges unions with acting in bad faith toward talks to get a crew ready for the fast ferry Chenega.

Chance said the appeal is necessary to move talks along so that a crew can be assembled before summer ends. The Chenega is scheduled to serve Prince William Sound communities through early September.

"I hope it will speed it up," Chance said.

The complaint is filed with the Alaska Labor Relations Agency, a panel consisting of labor, management and citizens. The panel can force the unions to come back to the negotiating table.

The appeal cites two of the three unions - the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association and the International Organization for masters, Mates and Pilots - and says they have been uncooperative: "Over the course of these negotiations, the union has engaged in tactics designed to circumvent its duty to bargain in good faith."

According to the appeal, tactics used by the union include union representatives not responding to e-mails and phone calls regarding the scheduling of meetings, not clarifying their position on certain proposals and not presenting counterproposals when asked.

Union representatives denied the charges and said they were participating at every level.

Joe Geldhof, counsel for Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, wonders why Chance is filing the charge when Chance previously said the negotiations are not at impasse.

Geldhof and the unions were hoping the Chenega's contract would be similar to the contract for the state's other fast ferry, the Fairweather, because they are sister vessels.

"The Division of Labor Relations has done a miserable job of explaining why the Chenega should operate in a substantially different way than the Fairweather," Geldhof said.

The Chenega, purchased at $40 million under the previous administration of Gov. Tony Knowles., arrived in Juneau in May and is still docked at Auke Bay.

The Fairweather has two crews that each work one full week and break for a full week. The ferry runs seven days a week.

The state is proposing only one crew working four days a week to man the Chenega because the state cannot afford two crews.

But Ben Goldrich, Alaska director of MEBA, said it may be cheaper to run the Chenega with two crews, considering the amount of maintenance and care needed for the vessel.

Chance said that the only bargaining room the unions have is over wages, hours and conditions. But he suspects the unions want to argue policy at the table, which in this case would be the Department of Transportation and Public Works' decision to send the Chenega to Cordova this summer and then base it in Ketchikan during the fall and winter.

The original idea was to base the Chenega in Cordova year-round, but a new plan calls for the ferry to serve as a day boat in Southeast Alaska for six to eight months a year, possibly as a shuttle between Ketchikan and Petersburg.

Goldrich said some ferry workers before were enthusiastic about living in Cordova year-round, especially if they had family in Anchorage. Now some of them would not want to have homes in both cities.

Chance said employees would get with either housing or a living allowance in Cordova.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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