Management, labor issues complicate Alaska Marine Highway System

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KODIAK, Alaska (AP) - In a story Nov. 18 about a group's report about the state ferry system, The Associated Press reported erroneously the name of the organization. It is the Southeast Conference, not the Southwest Conference.

A corrected version of the story is below:

A report by an Alaska regional development organization indicated that the success of the state ferry service could hinge on repairing the troubled relationship between its management and labor force.

The Southeast Conference found that the relationship was strained, inefficient and ineffective, causing financial problems for the Alaska Marine Highway System, the Kodiak Daily Mirror newspaper reported Friday.

"Management and labor need to have a realignment so they're working toward a common goal," said Robert Venables, executive director of the organization.

The Southeast Conference is trying to transform the ferry service into a public corporation and wants to address the problems. Its report said the main concerns were dealing with the numerous unions involved in operating the service and the resulting web of contracts.

The report outlined a number of problems following a series of meetings between organization officials and ferry service representatives. They included a complicated hiring and scheduling process for new employees, independent and vessel-specific labor contracts, a high crew turnover rate, grievances not resolved in a timely manner and a complex payroll system.

John Whiddon, a Kodiak City Council member who is on the Southeast Conference's steering committee, said the troubled relationship is a problem that branches into different areas. He said all the contracts need to be revisited.

"Obviously, there's still a need for the ferry system. The current model is just not working," Whiddon said.

The report calls for simplifying processes and found that many of the issues could be solved by reducing the number of unions.