It’s a work stoppage that couldn’t have come at a worse time, but ferry workers say three years without a contract and a future with deep cuts left them no choice.

Inlandboatman’s Union of the Pacific entered its second day of a strike over failed contract negotiations with the state. Members from the union picketed in Juneau and Ketchikan.

One of its leaders says he’s not only worried about the negotiations but long-term effects from deep service cuts that will lead to significantly scaled back wintertime service.

“This is going to be devastating,” said Robb Arnold, vice chairman the IBU’s Pacific division. “Half of these people you see. They’re all people who work. They live. They breath. They love Alaska. They live in communities, but guess what? Half of these people, if not more, will be gone due to this budget come September.”

Department of Transportation Commissioner John MacKinnon said the strike is poorly timed.

“You know this strike is coming at the worst part of the year,” he said. “It’s the biggest revenue time. It’s going to hurt us. It’s going to hurt our ability to operate this winter as well as next spring.”

According to the latest DOT figures, so far fares were refunded for nearly 3,000 passengers and more than 700 vehicles. That’s more than $1 million in refunded fares.

Nearly 4,500 people were scheduled to travel this week and DOT is working to cancel sailings as needed until an agreement gets reached, a DOT spokeswoman write in an email.

House Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, is an ardent supporter of the unions. She plans a hearing in Cordova on Saturday and is concerned that some communities will face significant hardship from scaled back wintertime service.

Still, she called the strike, “ill-advised.”

“With the complexion of everything in what’s going on in the state, I absolutely believe it’s ill-advised,” she said. “This is a union, I don’t know all the particulars and I don’t know all the specifics, so I certainly don’t want to say something out of line or that I don’t have facts on, but from what I understand they are receiving a fair wage and fair benefits. I don’t know what the hang ups are, I just think it’s ill-timed and ill-advised.”

Correction: This story has been edited to revise a quote from Robb Arnold and correct the union name.

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