Alaska ferry system brings passengers to Bellingham
An Alaska ferry will dock in Bellingham on Friday, Aug. 9 — the first such visit since a labor strike ended last week.
The strike ended Friday, Aug. 2, after the union reached a tentative agreement with the state of Alaska.
That agreement allowed the Alaska Marine Highway System to begin preparations to resume ferry runs to coastal communities, including Bellingham.
But it takes time to get crews and supplies back to where the ships were docked when the strike began, the Alaska State Department of Transportation announced.
That means the two ferries that travel between Bellingham and Alaska — the Columbia and the Kennicott — will head out of Ketchikan, Alaska, on their way to Bellingham on Wednesday, Aug. 7, and Thursday, Aug. 8, respectively.
They will arrive at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal on Friday, Aug. 9, and Saturday, Aug. 10.
Nearly 600 passengers were unable to sail out of Bellingham during the strike.
Bellingham is the southern stopping point for the Alaska Marine Highway System, which covers 3,500 miles of coastline from Washington state up to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands.
The stop at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal is also the only stop in Washington state. The Port of Bellingham operates the terminal.
“The Port is thrilled to have the Alaska Ferry back in service for the many residents, tourists and business owners who rely on this important connection between Washington and Alaska,” Mike Hogan, spokesman for the Port, told The Bellingham Herald for an earlier story.
The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific and the state of Alaska reached a tentative agreement late Thursday night for a three-year contract, according to a news release from the state Department of Administration.
Both sides were pleased with the agreement, which was reached with the help of a federal mediator, Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka said during a teleconference on Friday.
“It’s good for employees and it’s good for Alaska, and that’s what really matters,” Tshibaka said.
Union members have since ratified the new contract, according to Alaska Public Media.
Ferry workers last went on strike in 1977, according to the Associated Press.
The strike affected thousands of passengers.
As of Thursday afternoon, the state had refunded over $3.2 million in fares for 8,300 passengers and 2,300 vehicles, according to John MacKinnon, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation.
“That loss of revenue will impact our ability to operate in the future,” MacKinnon said.
He also spoke about indirect costs moving forward, referring to passengers who may not have confidence when they book tickets.
“That’s the kind of collateral damage that a strike like this can cost,” MacKinnon said.
The last official contract ended in 2017, and workers had been operating under a series of interim agreements since then.
“This new agreement addresses many of our members’ concerns,” said Marina Secchitano, IBU president and chief negotiator, in a news release.
“We are very pleased with our new tentative agreement and we appreciate the efforts of the state’s bargaining team in helping to bridge our differences to reach a fair resolution,” Secchitano said.
The strike occurred during the peak ferry season, particularly for the route out of Bellingham.
Its impact here isn’t known yet.
“While we don’t have a specific estimate of the strike’s impact on the Port of Bellingham, each year the Bellingham connection stimulates $4.2 million in business revenue from firms supplying services and support to the Alaska Marine Highway System,” Hogan said to The Bellingham Herald in an email.
In August the ferry is scheduled to dock in Bellingham each Friday and two Saturdays, according to the Alaska Marine Highway System
An average of 20,000 passengers travel between Bellingham and Alaska via this ferry connection each year, according to the Port of Bellingham.