Wrangell’s municipal government is preparing for a strike. That’s after borough officials and union members rejected each other’s wage proposals.
Twenty-four municipal employees represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have been without a contract for three years.
Management and labor made final wage offers earlier this month.
The union proposed an across-the-board, $2.50-an-hour raise. Wrangell responded with a much-lower amount, though it wasn’t made public.
Interim Borough Manager Carol Rushmore said she was informed the offer wasn’t accepted.
“The Assembly had been notified by union members on Friday that a vote had occurred and that they had voted to strike,” she said. She said no strike date was given.
Union shop steward Mark Armstrong said members are waiting for a new offer from the borough. He said strike plans will only be discussed if there’s no acceptable response. He also said the borough’s last offer was a 75-cents-an-hour raise, which would not cover workers’ increased health insurance costs.
The Borough Assembly scheduled a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to consider the situation.
Rushmore said Wrangell has about 35 managers and non-union staffers. And it’s looking for more in case of a strike.
“We have put out a public notice for temporary employees that might be able to assist us with certain skills. So, there’s a job announcement just for temporary assistance so we can draw from a pool of applicants,” she said.
Police and firefighters are not part of the union, so their services would continue.
But many other government functions would slow or shut down.
That includes road and sidewalk maintenance, building permits and inspections, and boat haul-outs at the Marine Service Center.
“One of the things that we have said would be suspended at least initially would be curbside garbage collection. So that is something that we would have to handle and they would maybe have to haul their own garbage to our waste transfer station,” she said.
That’s where collected trash is moved to shipping containers that are barged to Lower-48 landfills.
Rushmore said non-union staff will continue necessary public services, including water, sewer and electricity. That’s unless there’s a major breakdown.
Petersburg Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht said the strike threat has delayed planned maintenance of the power grid that supplies his community, as well as Wrangell and Ketchikan.
“It appears with the labor negotiation situation that Wrangell may be minus some people. And they asked if the rest of the Southeast Alaska Power Authority members could hold off on this planned shutdown while they work on their labor issues,” he said.
It’s seasonal work, that shoots for a time when energy use is down. That reduces the expense of using diesel generators instead of hydroelectric plants.
“We use the most electricity in the wintertime for electric heat. So, in the summertime, we like to try before the cannery processors start to get up and running full speed, we do maintenance. And to do that we have to bring the intertie that connects us to the rest of the system down. And Wrangell does the same,” he said.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers agreed to an earlier plan to increase members’ health benefit costs. The union said the raise is needed to keep workers’ overall pay from dropping.
It also said it’s not asking for the raise to be retroactive, which saves the borough money.
Read Wrangell’s strike-alert press release and list of affected services: http://www.wrangell.com/community/borough-prepares-public-union-strike
Editor’s note: This report has been updated with quotes and additional information.