By Gretchen Wehmhoff

Grievance negotiations between White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) and Teamsters 959 are headed towards arbitration. 

Twenty-seven jobs were abolished in February, leaving 27 railroad workers without employment. Another 15 employees have been called back from seasonal furlough status. 

The union initiated the contractual grievance process this past spring and the two parties are now headed to the third and possibly final stage, binding arbitration. 

“We’re always looking for a resolution,” said Teamster business representative Norm Blair. 

Blair says both sides are starting the process of suggesting arbitrators. Once the parties agree upon the arbiter, they will prepare to present their cases.  

“It’s very cordial,” said Blair.

WP&YR Human Resource Director Tyler Rose said that since the situation is an ongoing employment issue that is being pursued through the contractual grievance process, they won’t be commenting on the process. In the meantime, Rose says there have been no further permanent force reductions and that WP&YR has maintained the same active roster of fifteen.

Cathy Hackett, one of the 27 employees whose position was abolished has been following the process. 

Hackett believes, “the abolishment of these jobs was totally unnecessary. These people were already in layoff status. (The abolishments) are taking livelihoods  away from people.”

Hackett said some workers in the abolished positions have been with WP&YR  for decades, a few joining right out of Skagway School. 

As the grievance process runs its course, WP&YR is looking at the recent passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act.

“I think the whole community has been buoyed by this recent news,” Rose said. 

He said the railroad is working towards restoring train service in concert with the cruise traffic return.

There are some ongoing construction projects.

“We are set to re-engage the work on replacing 15A Bridge in the coming weeks,” Rose said.

Bridge 15A received damage last summer from a rock slide. Construction was going on in the area around the bridge at the time. The bridge had been in line for upgrades, but with the significant damage, the replacement was moved up.

Should the railroad resume tourist operations, it will likely be limited to its Summit trip due to the current U.S. and Canadian border closure. 

The Summit Loop project was completed in 2019, allowing the train to turn around a loop rather than switch tracks and move cars.