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- Alaska’s state ferry system, a critical link for dozens of coastal towns, has been suspended for six days with no end in sight.
- The union which represents workers on the Marine Highway voted last week to strike as they fight for a new contract.
- Those talks with the state administration broke down on Monday, with a federal mediator ending talks between the two groups.
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A critical link between some rural Alaskan towns and the rest of the world has been severed for six days with no relief in sight.
Worker’s on Alaska’s Marine Highway ferry system voted to strike for the first time in more than four decades last Wednesday, July 24, halting service to more than 30 coastal communities which depend on the boats for transportation as well as groceries, food, vehicles and other critical deliveries.
The standoff took another dire turn on Monday, with a federal mediator suspending contract talks between workers, represented by the Inlandboatmen’s Union, and the state government, controlled by governor Mike Dunleavy, Reuters reported.
Alaska Department of TransportationSince 2017, roughly 400 members of the IBU have been working under a series of temporary agreements with the state following the expiration of their last long-term contract. The union is currently asking for a guaranteed 3% raise each year of a three-year contract, as well as state responsibility for increased health insurance costs.
In a statement to the Anchorage Daily News, the union said it had rejected a series of "harsh measures" proposed by the state government. The state, in return, has called many of the union’s demands "illegal."
Sailing schedules have been suspended through at least August 2 for most vessels, with some cancelled as far out as August 7, according to a notification posted Monday by Alaska’s department of transportation.
John MacKinnon, state transportation commissioner, said Friday that more than 4,000 passengers and 800 vehicles have been stranded due to the cancellations, forcing the state to refund about $2 million worth of tickets. The Governor has called the strike illegal.
Other politicians, especially 2020 presidential candidates, chimed in to support the union’s bid for better pay and improved working conditions.
It’s unclear if and when negotiation talks will resume. Representatives for the IBU and the Alaska Department of Transportation did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.
The Alaska Marine Highway was initially founded in 1949, with voters approving the state run system ten years later. The ferries operate along a 3,100 mile system which serves some 350,000 people and 100,000 vehicles every year, according to government statistics.
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