- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The state announced Monday that it had reached tentative agreement on a new, three-year contract with the largest union representing Alaska Marine Highway System workers.

Terms must be approved by the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific and the state Legislature.

A Department of Administration spokesman said talks were continuing with the other two marine unions, the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots and the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association.

The tentative agreement calls for a 1-percent pay raise starting July 1, 2015, and a 2 percent increase the following year. It also calls for members to pay $100 annually to use the ferry on stand-by status, a benefit the regional director of the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific, Ricky Deising, said extends to immediate family. Previously, workers and retirees and their families received free passage on ferries on a stand-by basis. He said the proposal would not affect current retirees.

Administration Commissioner Curtis Thayer said workers would not have to pay the fee unless they wanted the pass.

State officials for years have looked at curtailing passes on the cash-strapped ferry system. But union members have long argued that they weren’t costing the system money because they weren’t bumping paying customers and said they contribute to revenue by spending money on the boats during their trips.

Deising said since the state was willing to back off other “takeaways,” negotiators relented on an “administrative fee.”

The agreement keeps in place the long-standing pay differential between in-state and out-of-state employees that lawmakers debated earlier this year.

Thayer, in a phone interview, said the state was successful in achieving concessions in other areas. He said he considers the package fair.

“With this tentative agreement, we are responsibly balancing good wages and benefits with ferry system sustainability,” he said in a release.

The union represents about 600 crewmen on the ferries. Members had authorized a strike, if one was deemed necessary.

Thayer said this tentative deal is similar to what the state wants to make with the other two unions with respect to pay.

Ron Bressette, with Masters, Mates and Pilots, said his union met with the state, along with a federal mediator, last week and plans to request more information about the state’s latest proposal. He said the union’s roughly 100 members also voted to authorize a strike, if needed, but that would be a last resort and the two sides were still trying to reach agreement.

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