SKAGWAY, Alaska (July 31, 2023) — Members of the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) have voted in favor of ratifying a tentative agreement the union recently reached with the White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR).

The more than two-dozen unionized workers for WP&YR, the largest employer in Skagway and a tourist railroad serving thousands of visitors who come to the southeast Alaska town of 1,200, had been working since late 2017 without a new contract.

“This has been a hard-fought and long — nearly six-year — journey for our membership and our negotiating team,” said lead negotiator Jason Guiler, SMART-TD general chairperson. “Our members have spoken and are in favor of this agreement. After working through a pandemic and then dealing with the surge in both inflation and ridership as tourists have come back, they feel that the carrier has extended an acceptable offer.

“This is a prime example of how collective bargaining works. We look forward to serving riders aboard the WP&YR now that negotiations have been resolved!”

The new contract, effective Jan. 1, 2018, with a wage package that began upon ratification on July 26, 2023, includes a wage increase through the length of the nine-year agreement. It also prevented the carrier from eliminating the brakeman position.

“General Chairperson Guiler and the membership of our Local 1626 in Alaska who work for WP&YR should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished with this success,” said Vice President Brent Leonard, who assisted in the negotiating process throughout. “It proves what can be done when workers stand together for themselves. I congratulate them on an outstanding job!”

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.

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.