M/V Aurora’s summer schedule back on track

The M/V Aurora docks in Whittier on Friday, June 22, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

Ferry service for Cordova has resumed through the end of September, in the wake of a union strike that abruptly shut down the Alaska Marine Highway System from July 24 through Aug. 4.

The M/V Aurora left Valdez on Sunday, Aug. 4, en route to Whittier and Cordova on its regular summer schedule, which will continue through Sept. 30, said Danielle Doyle, chief marketing officer for AMHS in Ketchikan.

That schedule is online at https://www.dot.state.ak.us/oars/reservations/CalendarFM.amhsf?selectMonth=August+2019&selectPort=All+Ports&selectVessel=M%2FV+Aurora&action=Get+Schedule

A revised schedule for winter was still being completed but expected to be announced by mid-September.  AMHS officials meanwhile were in the process of issuing refunds to all passengers on ferry routes cancelled during the strike.

An agreement on a new three-year contract between the state of Alaska and Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific, Alaska Region, which was ratified by union members on Aug. 2, includes a wage increase and improved health insurance coverage, said Robb Arnold, vice chairman of the union’s executive board. The AMHS summer schedule provides jobs for some 420 union members, he said.

It was the first strike in 42 years against the state-owned transportation system, which serves coastal Alaska communities, most of which can be reached only by plane or boat. Residents, businesses and other entities in these communities depend on the ferry system for delivery of supplies ranging from groceries to vehicles and other items that cannot be transported on aircraft. AMHS ferries also provide connections to Bellingham, Wash., and Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Union members fill a variety of jobs on Alaska state ferries, from security and medical first aid to deck hands, stewards, oilers and deck hands.

The strike itself “was our last resort,” Arnold said. “Our backs were against the wall., Hopefully this will never happen again.”

The nine-day strike was a costly one for AMHS, which was obligated to issue refunds totaling $3.2 million to some 8,300 passengers, and those numbers could rise, as refunds were also being offered for lack of service to passengers who embarked on ferries that did not reach their scheduled destinations, said Shannon McCarthy, a public information officer for the state Department of Transportation in Anchorage.