Unions push against proposed cuts to Alaska ferry system

The ferry Taku waits to load passengers in Sitka Jan. 22, 2012, while it was still sailing. It’s been sold to a company based in Dubai after a Portland, Oregon, bidder withdrew its offer. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The ferry Taku waits to load passengers in Sitka, Jan. 22, 2012. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Union representatives backing the Alaska ferry service to coastal communities plan to rally in Juneau to oppose job losses proposed by Gov. Michael Dunleavy.

The Republican governor is looking to cut the Alaska Marine Highway System by $97 million — 75 percent of its budget — amid efforts to close a projected $1.6 billion budget deficit, the Juneau Empire reported Sunday.

With the cuts, the ferry system might become a seasonal operation.

The cuts also could lead to the loss of 253 union jobs, said Robb Arnold, a member of the Inlandboatmen’s Union — one of three unions representing ferry system workers. The losses would include 100 jobs in Juneau and 81 in Ketchikan.

The three unions have signed a memo in solidarity, vowing to save the Alaska Marine Highway. The memo states the governor’s proposed budget would be “devastating” on communities in Southeast.

Union leadership is “working together on this issue along with our state and local representatives, the national union and our lobbyists,” the memo states.

The ferry system connects remote islands that are only accessible by boat or plane, allowing residents to access to bigger cities for health care and other services. Food and heavy equipment is also shipped through the system.

The AFL-CIO, which represents many state employees, is hosting a rally at the Alaska Capitol next week. Representatives of the ferry unions, including Arnold, have been invited to participate.

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

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