Robb Arnold, chief purser on the Alaska Marine Highway’s Malaspina ferry, talks about the proposed cuts to the ferry system on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Robb Arnold, chief purser on the Alaska Marine Highway’s Malaspina ferry, talks about the proposed cuts to the ferry system on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Unions prep to push back against proposed ferry cuts

Hundreds of marine highway union jobs could be cut

The Alaska Marine Highway System could be facing up to 253 union job losses under Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget, according to Robb Arnold, a member of the Inland Boatman’s Union. The IBU is one of three unions that work with the ferry system.

That job reduction would include 100 jobs in Juneau and 81 in Ketchikan, Arnold said. Arnold said he and other union members learned that this during a meeting with Department of Transportation officials last week.

The ferry system is facing a $97 million cut — 75 percent of its budget — under Dunleavy’s proposed budget for fiscal 2020. The ferry system may only operate seasonally instead of year-round.

AMHS union advocates are gearing up to push back.

The AFL-CIO, a union which represents many state employees, is hosting a rally at the Alaska State Capitol steps next week. Arnold said he and other IBU members have been invited to participate, along with members of the other two ship-side unions: the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, and the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association.

Arnold will be distributing posters that say “We support full ferry service, keep Alaska connected.” He hopes businesses will display the posters in their windows.

“If they shut down a highway up north for six months could you imagine the public outcry?” Arnold, who has worked for the ferry system since 2006, said in an interview. “It’s not a normal state. If you take part of the system away the rest of the system will not work.”

Southeast Alaska relies on the ferry system to connect remote islands in the archipelago; without it, there only way to access other islands is by personal boats or plane. The system serves as a marine transport highway, shipping food, people and heavy equipment for construction projects. It also provides residents in remote areas access to urban stops, such as Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka, for health care and other services.

Earlier this week, lawmakers from Southeast — especially Republican Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka — pressed the governor’s Office of Management and Budget on the proposed cuts.

[Senators want more answers on Marine Highway closure]

These three ferry-side unions have signed a memo in solidarity, vowing to save the Marine Highway.

“If the Governor’s proposed budget were enacted the impact on Alaska’s South East communities would be devastating,” the memo states. It assures the members that union leadership is “working together on this issue along with our state and local representatives, the national union and our lobbyists.”


• Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258 or kbaird@juneauempire.com. Follow him Twitter at @alaska_kev.com.


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