June 8th 2016

MM&P and the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) today launched an outreach effort aimed at alerting Alaskans to the risks of a proposal to cut tanker escort costs in Prince William Sound by replacing Crowley Maritime Services and MM&P/IBU crews with an out-of-state contractor with a questionable environmental record.

MM&P’s United Inland Group represents the officers aboard the Crowley tugs that guide oil tankers through the pristine waters of Prince William Sound; the IBU represents the unlicensed crewmembers aboard the vessels.

The public outreach effort includes a TV and newspaper ad campaign, interviews in leading Alaska publications and an online petition drive. The objective is to educate the public about the risks inherent in Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s plan to replace incumbent Crowley with Edison Chouest Offshore.

“It’s unprecedented for our unions to make a direct appeal to the public over a contract issue,” says MM&P President Don Marcus.

“But the threat to jobs and the environment in this case is equally unprecedented. We know that others in the region will want to join this fight.”

Alyeska, which is controlled by ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips, operates the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the Valdez terminal.

Crowley has operated the escort tugboats and response vessels for the past 25 years. The company and its workers, who wear emblems sporting the moniker “Guardians of Prince William Sound,” have a decades-long record of keeping the pristine waters safe.

Louisiana-based Edison Chouest, on the other hand, is best known in Alaska for its involvement in the wreck of the Kulluk oil rig in 2012 off Kodiak Island. The company has said that if its bid is successful, it will replace the 250 Valdez-based Crowley workers who now crew the ships.

“Right now, in the town of Cut Off, La., workers are training to take these Alaska jobs,” says IBU President Alan Cote. “The Edison Chouest workers will continue to live in Louisiana and commute to Alaska and stay in man camps and then rotate home to the bayous. This will hurt Alaska’s economy and the town of Valdez in particular.”

“For years, Crowley has maintained the highest level of safety at a reasonable cost,” Marcus says. “We’re taking our message to the public because this is bad news for the Alaska economy and for the safety of Prince William Sound.”

Public officials in the communities surrounding Prince William have also voiced reservations about the proposal. Donna Schantz, executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council (RCAC), told Alaska Public Radio in March that far more than a contract is at stake. It’s about “a key oil-spill prevention and response measure for Prince William Sound,” she said, adding that Crowley plays a “very, very important role.”

The RCAC, set up after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, monitors transportation issues and represents a large cross-section of Alaskans. It defines itself as “a voice for the people and groups with the most to lose from another catastrophic crude oil spill in Prince William Sound.”

Current and former Crowley employees are also speaking out. Robert Archibald, who lives in Homer and recently retired after 30 years at Crowley, of which 22 years were spent working on tugs in Valdez, said experience in Alaskan waters is critical to ensuring safety on the Sound.

“The oil industry is facing a tough period and belt-tightening is required, but you don’t want to eliminate institutional knowledge and do things on the cheap with a company that has a poor track record, and when the risks to the economy and the environment are so great,” he said. “This is a place where experience counts.”

“Thank God that the unions are giving voice to this fight,” added Carl Jones, who lives in Palmer and has worked as a chief engineer for Crowley for the past 15 years.

“This affects communities beyond those who work on the water. Our political leaders in Alaska talk a good game about jobs and the economy and yet here are good jobs that can and should be saved and they’ve remained silent. These jobs aren’t being lost; they’re being given away. Our leaders should be challenging Alyeska’s thinking. This decision is penny-wise and frankly damn foolish.”

Crowley’s contract to operate the tugs expires in June of next year. Alyeska has stated it will finalize its decision early this summer.