Legislature considers nixing cost of living for ferry vessel employees
A bill being considered in the State Senate could impact local ferry workers.
Senate Bill 182 amends Alaska State law pertaining to bargaining rights to eliminate what is known as a cost-of-living differential. This provision of contracts allows for salaries to be automatically adjusted to match the cost of living of a certain area. For individual employees, this can amount to as much as $4 per hour, or roughly $8,320 per year for, in particular, Alaska Marine Highway System employees, who are currently bargaining with the state for a new contract.
State Sen. Fred Dyson (R – Eagle River) proposed the law on a request from the administration of Gov. Sean Parnell. If enacted, the bill would save the state almost $7.7 million in the next fiscal year, according to the Department of Transportation’s fiscal note, but the bill isn’t just about saving money, Dyson said.
“Certainly that is a part of it, but also to get consistency across all of the bargaining units that the state has,” he said.
Unlike other bargaining units, the ferry worker’s differential stems from state statute, which limits the state’s ability to bargain, Dyson said. Officials believe the differential is obsolete, in part because the index used to calculate the differential is based on Seattle, which is identical to Anchorage, Dyson said.
The provisions in the law would affect only those workers aboard the vessels, like stewards and pursers. Local ferry employees estimated that about 25 Wrangell residents could be affected. Probationary employee LaDonna Botsford, who works as a porter, said the consideration of the Anchorage index isn’t fair to the majority of Highway System employees, who don’t live or work in Anchorage.
“You’re gonna find a very small percentage that live in Anchorage,” she said. “Most of us live in the small outlying communities, where the cost of living is much higher.”
Botsford was adamantly opposed.
“Right now, the state is undergoing negotiations for the contract renewal, and that language is presently written into the contract,” she said. “If the state passes this bill, they’d basically violate the contract.”
“It is a huge difference,” she said.
State regulations already place a high financial burden on employees, Botsford said.
“I was just faxing in leave forms so I can attend another class for another certification for another documentation,” she said. “We have to have minimum licenses that cost $1,500 just to get to go to work out on the system.”
Beyond the potential economic impact, the bill could affect the ongoing negotiations for the unions, though the bill’s future remains uncertain. It had been referred to the Finance Committee as of Tuesday and was awaiting a hearing.
State Sen. Bert Stedman (R – Sitka) said the bill had initially not been referred to the finance committee, but now that it had been, it might receive more scrutiny.
“I don’t see a bill like that passing,” he said.