The Malaspina moored in Juneau during a strike by the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific Thursday, July 25 (KTOO/David Purdy)

The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific strike entered its fifth day, Monday (7/29/19). The largest union representing ferry workers went on strike in Alaska last week, after contract negotiations between the union and the state faltered. For communities that depend on the Alaska Marine Highway System, that means making some pricey choices while they wait for the strike to conclude.

Scott Harris, president of Harris Air in Sitka says some of the Southeast communities they serve, like Haines, were hit hard as the ferry strike continued over the weekend. And that means his company is swamped. 

“We’re kind of slammed at the moment. It’s been non-stop phone calls, non-stop people booking on our flights, non-stop people asking for flights and non-stop people trying to move freight,” says Harris.  

Harris Air spent the weekend getting groceries, goods, and people to Haines via aircraft charter. Demand was high because the Southeast State Fair was in progress. Another Sitka company, Allen Marine, shuttled passengers to and from the fair, and provided more transportation service over the weekend in the wake of the strike. 

Harris says they’ve been getting calls from communities they don’t typically fly to. They’ve had to turn some requests down. 

“We just don’t have the capacity to do everything we’re being asked to do,” he says.

The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific, which represents around 400 ferry workers in the state, was still on strike as of Monday afternoon. 

The Alaska Marine Highway System serves 33 communities in Alaska. Many of them have been scrambling since last week figure out alternative ways to get the goods they need.  Shayne Thompson owns Angoon Trading Company. 

“We have not been able to get any of our dry grocery in yet,” Thompson says. “We sent a bunch of air freight over the first day, and then we chartered a plane for the rest of our temperature controlled product the second day.” 

He says now, the community is working together to pool resources to pay for barge or landing craft at the end of this week if the ferry strike continues. Thompson doesn’t know the exact total, but it’s pricey- somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000.

“Obviously you’re not going to just send 1000 pounds or something on that,” he says. “We’re going to put on as much weight as we possibly can, and see if anybody has vehicles that need to to back and forth.  And all the while hope that they go back online and end the strike before we actually get to Friday.” 

Thompson says he’s hopeful that will happen. The community is dealing with prohibitive costs to make up for the absence of a service that makes places like Angoon, a city of around 500 people on Admiralty Island, more affordable and accessible. 

“We have a fragile economy out here,” says Thompson. “Having the ferry come in, you know, saves people a lot of money on being able to move back and forth, in general, across Southeastern Alaska, not just here. It makes it more affordable to live out here. And that’s really, really, really important.” 

At press time on Monday, the Department of Administration reported that negotiations between the IBU and the state had recessed, extending the strike and further suspending Alaska Marine Highway operations.