SKAGWAY, Alaska (July 6, 2023) — SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) Local 1626, which represents operating personnel for the White Pass & Yukon Route (WPYR), authorized a strike late last week. The labor union and railroad have negotiated for nearly six years and have been unable to resolve disputes on wages, healthcare, workforce reduction and safety.

A strike will affect tens of thousands of vacationers visiting Alaska during the peak summer travel period.

SMART-TD is attempting to secure wages commensurate with cost-of-living increases seen over the past six years. Since the expiration of the previous agreement in 2017, workers’ wages have not changed, making it increasingly difficult for employees to cover basic living expenses. The railroad also wants to increase healthcare costs, further reducing employees’ take-home wages.

The carrier also seeks to reduce the workforce by a third by removing the brakeman from every train, a safety-critical position for trains that routinely carry 600 passengers. While engineers operate the controls of the locomotive, brakemen and conductors work from the train cars, where they can ensure the safe passage of those aboard. They also protect the public as the train travels through the busiest parts of town. Removing the brakeman and depending entirely on conductors to perform twice the work would endanger passengers and the public. Safety is the highest concern for SMART-TD, and we refuse to endorse or agree to carrier’s proposal that puts passengers, employees, and the public at risk.

The parties engaged in a marathon round of a mediation late into each night through the holiday weekend. The three-day session failed to break the logjam and ended with SMART-TD rejecting the railroad’s offer. The future of negotiations is in limbo as the parties did not agree to a future meeting date at the conclusion of the meetings this past weekend.

SMART-TD Vice President Brent Leonard, who joined the negotiations in the spring of 2023 and participated in the negotiations through the holiday weekend, stated: “I’m very proud of the resolve and commitment of the Local 1626 negotiating team. Six years is far too long for these families to go without normal raises, particularly when the costs of living have risen so sharply. Many of these men and women leave their homes and families for several months of the year in order to work for this railroad. They are dedicated employees who deserve a fair recognition of their work from their employer. SMART-TD is committed to whatever is necessary to achieve a fair resolution for these men & women and their families.”

Contract negotiations are in mediation in accordance with the Railway Labor Act. If SMART-TD and WPYR cannot resolve the dispute, they can be released from mediation and offered arbitration. If both parties do not agree to arbitration, a 30-day cooling-off period will occur after which a strike could occur. If a strike was to occur, complete carrier shutdown would happen. No trains would operate, and cruise ship passengers would be left without transport.

The potential for a work stoppage on the White Pass & Yukon (WP&Y) Route, a tourist railroad that operates between Alaska and Canada, has drawn the attention of media in Alaska as the results of a strike authorization vote are awaited.

SMART Transportation Division members in Local 1626 who work for the carrier and General Chairperson Jason Guiler have been negotiating a new contract with WP&Y since November 2017.

Union members want wages that keep pace with the inflation-fueled increases in the cost of living as well as retroactive pay for the nearly six-year period that the contract has been stagnant.

Meanwhile, the carrier is seeking to hike healthcare costs for its workers and to eliminate the brakeman position, thus reducing its workforce by one third and giving the conductor double the duties.

“Safety is the highest concern for SMART-TD, and we refuse to endorse or agree to the carrier’s proposal that puts passengers, employees and the public at risk,” Guiler said.

The ongoing strike vote has drawn the attention of regional media outlets in the area. Both KHNS and KTOO have reported on the potential of a work stoppage. Results are of the authorization vote are expected on Friday.

KHNS: Skagway’s railroad workers could go on strike

KTOO: Amid busy tourist season, workers on Skagway’s White Pass railway are voting on a possible strike

WP&Y is the largest private employer in Skagway, with a population of close to 1,200 people in southeast Alaska. The carrier is owned by an investment group that includes the Carnival Corp. cruise line.

SMART Transportation Division-represented members from Local 1626 (Anchorage, Alaska) on the White Pass and Yukon Route will begin electronic voting tonight on whether to authorize a strike against the carrier.

Negotiations with the tourist railroad have been open since the expiration of the last labor contract in late 2017.

In an interview with the Whitehorse Daily Star, SMART-TD General Chairperson Jason Guiler (GCA-WPY) said that the carrier is seeking to increase the burden of health care costs onto workers as well as reducing the number of operating crew members.

He told the newspaper that ticket prices have increased by $27 per ticket since 2017 to an average of $152 per ticket and the carrier is expected to transport some 600,000 passengers this year.

As set forth by the Railway Labor Act, if a strike is authorized by members after the three-day voting period, a National Mediation Board mediator will then determine whether to release workers from mediation. If mediation is concluded and a strike authorized, a proffer of arbitration would then happen.

If arbitration is rejected by either the union or carrier, it would begin a 30-day cooling-off period before a strike could occur.

White Pass and Yukon operates as a Class III narrow line from Skagway, Alaska, to Carcross in the Yukon Territory and is the largest employer in Skagway.

In a joint venture, Alaska’s White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad (WP&Y) is being sold to Survey Point Holdings (majority owners) and Carnival/Holland America (minority owners). The deal is set to be final Aug. 1.
“Both companies have experience operating in Southeast Alaska, specifically in port operations and tourism, which dovetails nicely with our MO,” White Pass Local Chairperson Chris Williams said. “Suffice to say, we are cautiously optimistic.”
Begun in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the WP&Y today caters to the tourist trade. The narrow-gauge railroad operates on the first 67.5 miles (Skagway, Alaska to Carcross, Yukon) of the original 110-mile line. The operation is designated as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
SMART TD Local 1626 represents train and engine service workers employed by the WP&Y.

SMART Transportation Division members out of Local 1626 were among the recipients of the Gold Spike award from Alaska Railroad in late January.
Members Benjamin Bowen, Ryan Diehl, Caitlin Elison, Joshua Robinson, Bryan Sooter and Steven Tennison were among those who received a team award for “a sustained level of excellent performance and team-driven professional development, which in turn, improved train transportation performance.”

Twelve-year-old Lucas Dinsmore, son of Local 1626 member TJ Dinsmore, is being treated for Lymphoma for the second time. The Dinsmores lost an older son to Leukemia when Lucas was 15 months old.

Local 1626 President Vern Gillis wrote the following plea for help on behalf of Brother Dinsmore and his family.
“As we get older we start being able to put all things into perspective. What I know for sure is that family is not just an important thing, it’s everything. For us wage-earners we soldier on every day for the sake of our families, we work hard to provide all the love, health and wealth we can manage. When one of our union brothers or sisters is suffering, it affects us all.
“The Alaska Railroad Local 1626 has a long-standing tradition of taking care of its members and now we are reaching out to you to help us in a time of profound need. TJ Dinsmore is a third-generation railroader whose son Lucas, now 12-years-old, was diagnosed with lymphoma at the age of 5. Lucas was treated and appeared cancer-free until August 2016.
“Leukemia has already devastated this family as Lucas’ older brother died in 2004 after losing his battle to the disease. TJ’s family knows what it means to deal with indescribable emotional and financial pain.
“Local 1626 has been showing support and compassion for the family as best we can through these tough times: through visits, fundraising efforts, vacation-time donations and anything else we can think of to help.
“We’ve generated support in non-traditional ways, too. Recently, our members unanimously voted to donate a sizeable amount of money to Lucas’ family after settling several grievances with a carrier; retired Engineer/Terminal Manager Pete Hackenberger designed special Alaska Railroad hats made up with ‘Go Lucas’ on the side with all proceeds going to the family; and in our community the Anchorage Great Harvest Bread Company set up a program called Loafs of Love and sold 1,000 loaves of specialty breads, donating all proceeds to the Dinsmore family.
“It has been an honor to support the Dinsmore’s, but it hasn’t been enough. An Alaska Railroad employee created a GoFundMe page in order to fund the balance of tests and treatments Lucas has already received, but it hasn’t generated the amount necessary to cover those expenses. In the spirit of family, we ask you to consider supporting Brother Dinsmore and Lucas on this impossible journey.”
Members can make a donation by going to