Prince William Sound communities, business feel painful effects of ferry workers' strike
Some of Alaska’s ferry workers say they have no choice but to strike after three years without a contract and deep cuts in their future, but the effects of the work stoppage are already being felt in the communities that rely on business from the ferry service the most.
"We took a two-hour window of when the ferry guests start arriving, and when the ferry leaves, and it was probably at least 10% of our business that was down," said Kelly Bender, the owner of Whittier’s Lazy Otter Charters and Cafe.
Until the Inlandboatman’s Union of the Pacific entered its strike over failed contract negotiations with the state on Wednesday, Bender said business had been good this summer.
Since the strike though, that business has lost some of its momentum.
Bender says that has a rolling impact because the season is so short and businesses like hers depend on people to make purchases, paying sales tax in the community.
Although the ferries are not running, the ferry terminal is still open. Workers there are members of a different union.
They can only answer questions from passengers as they cancel reservations.
Seward City Manager Jim Hunt says his community is impacted by the strike too because the ferry is how residents can connect with the rest of Prince William Sound and one way they access Anchorage.
But that access is being denied until the union and the state can come to an agreement, which is unlikely to happen soon.
Contract negotiations between the two groups have been going on since December 2016.
The state says the strike is illegal. Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka has warned those who walked off the job that they could be fired.
Meanwhile, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state will work with people stranded by the strike.
"We're helping them now, the state of Alaska is helping to get those people where they need to go, and to move their cars where they need to go," he said.
The IBU has not returned KTVA’s phone calls requesting comment on the strike.
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