By Gretchen Wehmhoff

More than two dozen railroad employees lost their jobs this month as White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad (WP&YR) “abolished” positions in the wake of news that a strong 2021 cruise ship season was most likely not going to happen.

In a letter dated Feb. 5, WP&YR cited the “ongoing global pandemic” and its effect on Skagway’s largest employer. The letter listed specific jobs including coach cleaners, trackman, diesel mechanics, heavy duty equipment operators and more.

WYPR’s executive director of human resources and strategic planning, Tyler Rose, said there was consideration of abolishing – a term used in contract language –  the positions after the 2020 season.

“Though many of these employees were laid off and have not worked since September or October of 2019, the decision was made to continue supporting their benefits until a potentially renewed 2021 season,” said Rose. 

That 2021 season appears bleak after Canada recently extended their ban on large passenger ships from entering their ports until February 2022. The ban was originally put in place in March 2020.

“This is one of the most difficult times we’ve ever faced,” said Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata.

Cremata noted that like most business owners in Skagway who have been making tough staffing decisions, White Pass, as a private company, is in the same situation of losing revenue and is also tightening their budget.

Teamsters representative Joe Rintala told KHNS that union employees lost their seniority and benefits in the layoffs. Rintala acknowledged the company is having a tough time, but said union contractual issues are in question.

“There are pending items that may affect the outcome for these individuals,” said Rose.

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