Two marine unions are voicing their concerns over a new contract for Alyeska Pipeline, saying it could put Alaskans out of work.


Crowley Maritime Corporation currently provides tugboat escort and oil spill response duties in Prince William Sound. Alyeska Pipeline awarded a new contract to Louisiana-based Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO) for when Crowley’s contract expires in 2018.


“This is not about cost,” said Michelle Egan, corporate communications director for Alyeska Pipeline. “It’s about the full package of meeting technical requirements, demonstrating safety performance, environmental performance.”


Members from the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots (MMP) and the Inlandboatsmen’s Union (IBU) teamed up to form a campaign called Sound Jobs for Alaska.


This week they’re running a minute-long ad touting Crowley’s safety record and criticizing the incoming ECO. They’re worried non-union Edison Chouest won’t keep on current union members, which they said would put about 250 Alaskans out of work.


“I can’t stand the idea we’re sitting here in this day and age and saying local jobs don’t matter as much as getting the lowest bidder in here,” said national IBU President Alan Cote. “I just find that incredulous.”


Egan said those are just assumptions. She said even if ECO decides not to hire any of the current employees, the contract company still has to follow Alyeska’s hiring policy of having a 20-percent Alaska Native workforce.


Though Crowley is based in Florida, it’s held the Prince William Sound contract for more than 25 years. Union members are concerned an outside company won’t have the skills needed to face the challenges of working in Alaska.


“You can be highly trained but until you encounter the weather up here and actually have hands on with it—which our guys have for the past 25 years—no simulation can compare to that,” said captain Tim Saffle, the regional representative for MMP.


They cite the grounding of the Kulluk in 2012 as a prime example. An Edison Chouest vessel, the Aiviq, was towing Shell’s arctic drilling rig near Kodiak when it hit bad weather. The towline broke and the Kulluk ran aground.


The Coast Guard’s investigation found the primary factor in the incident was the company’s “inadequate assessment and management of risks associated with a complex vessel movement during the winter in the unique and challenging operating environment of Alaska.”


Carl Jones, a former chief engineer for Crowley, said after the grounding he heard Kulluk employees talking about how they couldn’t have expected the bad weather.


“They’re professional mariners, that’s their job,” he threw his hands up in frustration at the press conference. “The lowest deckhand on any vessel in Alaska knew the weather the Kulluk experienced happens every day during that time of the year.”


Egan said ECO’s environmental safety is good compared to other marine outfits and the company shouldn’t be judged solely on the Kulluk grounding.


“It’s unfortunate they had an incident here in Alaska that raises people’s concerns, but we are very confident they’ll be able to perform in Prince William Sound,” Egan said.


In addition to running a TV ad, Sound Jobs for Alaska also has an online petition. Members hope to get 5,000 signatures to show Alyeska Pipeline Alaskans care about keeping jobs in the state.


Egan said Alyeska remains confident in its decision to award Edison Chouest the contract and plans to move forward to finalize it.


KTVA 11’s Heather Hintze can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.


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