Thousands of Cruise Passengers Could Be Affected by Popular Alaska Tour

Railroad workers at the White Pass & Yukon route could be going on strike, causing disruptions for thousands of cruise ship guests.

The summer vacation plans of thousands of cruise guests in Alaska hang in the balance as a potential strike threatens one of the state’s most popular attractions. 

The labor union SMART-TD Local 1626, representing the operating personnel of the historic White Pass & Yukon Route (WPYR), authorized a strike after six years of unsuccessful negotiations with the railroad company.

The possible strike could not come at a worse time, coinciding with Alaska’s peak cruise season, which typically runs from May to September. The uncertainty surrounding the situation threatens to cause widespread disruption to the plans of cruise guests, who look forward to the iconic train journey as a highlight of their Alaskan adventure.

White Pass Railroad Strike on the Horizon?

The labor union representing the White Pass & Yukon railroad staff has announced it will be going on strike if railroad workers are not offered the benefits they have been negotiating over for six years now.

The long-running dispute concerns wages, healthcare, workforce reduction, and safety issues. The union insists that, despite the cost of living increasing over the past six years, the wages of WPYR employees have not been adjusted since the last agreement in 2017.

Alaska White Pass Shore Excursion
Photo Credit: Milan Sommer / Shutterstock

Furthermore, the railroad’s proposal to increase healthcare costs further reduces employee wages. Many railroad workers depend on their wages during the summer months working on the White Pass & Yukon trains, as the state virtually shuts down during the winter months.

The dispute takes on an added layer of complexity with WPYR’s plan to slash its workforce by a third. The proposed cuts include eliminating positions critical to the safe transportation of up to 600 passengers per journey. The union argues that expecting conductors to take on double the workload could compromise the safety of the guests and the general public.

Also Read: Your Guide to the Best Alaska Cruise Ports

The latest round of negotiations, which took place over the 4th of July weekend, ended in a stalemate with SMART-TD rejecting WPYR’s offer. Without a future meeting date set, the path forward remains uncertain.

Should both parties not agree to arbitration, a 30-day cooling-off period ensues. Only after that period can a strike legally begin. Given that today is July 7, if the cooling-off period were to start immediately, the earliest a strike could start would be early August.

A Major Blow to Cruise Season

The looming strike could lead to significant financial and logistical challenges for cruise lines. With the possibility of the iconic WPYR railroad journey being unavailable, cruise lines may find themselves forced to reimburse thousands of guests who have pre-booked this popular excursion as part of their cruise package.

White Pass in Skagway, Alaska
Photo Credit: Barbara Ash / Shutterstock

The proposed reduction in staffing levels onboard the trains is another factor likely to raise concerns among cruise operators. Removing critical positions could potentially compromise safety and guest satisfaction, aspects that no cruise line would willingly accept.

The stand-off between WPYR and SMART-TD has created an unfortunate scenario that threatens to tarnish what is typically a peak period for Alaskan tourism. 

The resolution of this dispute is critical for railroad workers and cruise guests. It is also critical for the entire cruise industry, which depends on the reliable operation of local attractions such as the White Pass & Yukon Route to provide unforgettable experiences for their guests.

The Historic White & Yukon Route

Constructed during the challenging period of the Klondike Gold Rush between 1898 and 1900, the White Pass & Yukon Route is a significant part of Alaskan history and a major tourist attraction. 

The railroad’s scenic 110-mile journey, which stretches from Skagway, Alaska, to Whitehorse in Yukon, Canada, is renowned for its breathtaking views of mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, and trestles.

Most, if not all, cruise lines offer the White Pass & Yukon route as part of their tour offerings while in Skagway. These include Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Carnival Cruise Line. 

The strike could be another blow for Skagway residents, who have already seen visitor numbers dwindle due to rock slides at the port in 2022.

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