Ferry worker union rejects tentative contract


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JUNEAU (AP) — A union representing the licensed captains and officers who work on the Alaska Marine Highway System has rejected a tentative contract agreement — and has not ruled out a possible strike.

The International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots voted down the proposal by mail-in ballot. Union representative Ron Bressette said he's been with the union since 1992 and has never seen a tentative agreement rejected.

Bressette declined to say whether the vote was close or overwhelmingly rejected. The union represents about 100 workers.

Bressette told KTOO (http://bit.ly/1Aha88K ) that many members felt the negotiated wage increases were inadequate. They included no raise the first year, a 1-percent raise in 2015 and a 2-percent raise in 2016.

Part of the reason for no raise the first year was that the tentative agreement was reached after the Legislature had adjourned, meaning lawmakers likely would not be able to sign off on a deal until next year. The wage provisions were common to all three unions representing ferry workers.

The Inland Boatmen's Union of the Pacific, the largest of the three, plans to count its members' votes on Aug. 26. Ballots had yet to be mailed to the members of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association.

Bressette said he hoped to meet with state officials Friday to discuss possible next steps. Options include negotiating a new agreement and binding arbitration. He also noted the union could strike.

In announcing the tentative deal in June, the commissioner of the state Department of Administration, Curtis Thayer, called the proposal balanced and fair.

Department spokesman Andy Mills said the state's negotiating team looked forward to hearing union members' concerns and determining the best way forward.

"Obviously when both sides are having a negotiation at a table, I don't think either side takes anything completely off the table," Mills said. "But I don't actually think we're that far apart. It's about polling the members and finding out what are those differences."

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