Twenty-four Wrangell municipal workers walked the picket line Thursday after voting to go on strike.
Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers held signs that said “City Unfair” outside city hall and three other locations.
Union leader Jay Rhodes said they’re protesting the Wrangell Assembly’s decision to implement contract terms the workers rejected.
The main sticking point is wages. The borough offered a 75-cent-an hour increase. Rhodes said the union wanted $2.50.
“This is a negotiation that’s been going on since 2014, for three years. And they haven’t had a cost-of-living increase since 2011. You can imagine the frustration from the bargaining unit side,” he said.
The union said municipal managers, school district employees and private-sector workers have seen larger increases in recent years.
The Wrangell Borough Assembly voted Tuesday to put management’s contract terms into place.
Dave Reaves, another union leader, said that was the last straw.
“These workers voted on the city’s last best offer, which they found unacceptable. And it was the Borough Assembly’s vote to implement their last offer that basically left the employees no choice but to strike” he said.
Members authorized strikes twice before this year, but dropped plans when negotiations resumed.
Union officials said the higher wage increase would would balance out health-insurance premium hikes. The municipality said is enough is enough to improve most employees’ overall pay and benefits packages.
Borough officials were not immediately available for comment.
A municipal press release said the strike includes public works, water, sewer, sanitation, garage, ports and harbors, electric and pool-maintenance employees.
About 35 managers and non-union staff continue to work. The borough said water, sewer and electrical systems will continue to operate, barring a major breakdown.
Local officials said Wrangell’s curbside garbage collection will continue for now, though pick-up may be later than usual. It also said harbors will continue to be staffed, though calls could take longer to be returned.
Wrangell has been advertising for temporary workers to fill in during the strike. There’s no word yet on whether any are on the job.
Wrangell municipal announcement:
The City and Borough of Wrangell employees who are members of the IBEW Union are on strike. Union member employees include those in Public Works, Water, Sewer, Sanitation, Garage, Ports and Harbors, Electric, and Pool maintenance (excluding Department Heads).
Borough Management will provide updates regarding any expected service disruptions that may occur. More detailed releases will be posted to the Borough’s Facebook page and on
http://www.wrangell.com/community/members‐ibew‐union‐strike‐wrangell and on KSTK Radio.
Theannouncement soliciting temporary workers to establish a pool from which to hire from can be found at
Press release from the union:
City and Borough of Wrangell Employees working in the Harbor Department, Public Works Department, Water/Wastewater Department, Sanitation Department, and Electric Department overwhelmingly voted in favor of an Unfair Labor Practice strike effective Thursday, June 22.
The decision to go out on a ULP strike is not an easy one. The workers have been negotiating with the Borough for more than 3 years for a fair deal. Unfortunately, the Borough has bargained in bad faith. Management made it clear that the most important thing to them was having employees pay a portion of their health care premiums.
Despite numerous concessions on the part of the workers, including contributing to their own health care, the Borough Wrangell has ignored the fundamental issue of a modest increase in wages that simply keep up with the cost of living.
Front line workers have not had a cost of living increase since 2011 while the former Borough manager enjoyed a forty-seven percent increase in salary over the past 4 years; School District employees recently received a 1 to 23% increase in pay; and private sector wages in Wrangell have increased over 12% between 2012 and 2015.
Statement from Mike Hodsdon, Business Manager, IBEW Local 1547: “IBEW Local 1547 is disappointed in the situation between the hardworking employees and the management in Wrangell. Many of these folks have spent their entire adult lives working for the city. These public employees are essential to maintaining a healthy and safe Borough, and ensure a successful tourism season. They’ve met management more than halfway, but the city has turned their back on them and continues to bargain in bad faith.”
Editor’s note: This report has been updated with quotes from union leaders as well as new information.