Monday, October 25, 1999

Dock strike averted

Union leaders are confident the
proposal will be ratified
Details are withheld until
union members
are notified

By Lori Tighe and
Treena Shapiro


Dockworkers could vote on a new contract as early as this afternoon following a tentative agreement between management and the union.

The agreement was announced just after midnight by Tim Ho, president of the Hawaii Employers Council and Eusebio Lapenia Jr., president of Local 142 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

After meeting at the ILWU Hall on Atkinson Drive for 33 hours over two days, Lapenia said the ratification process will start in the same location "after a good night sleep and a good dinner. Maybe 1 o'clock."

As of late this morning, no ratification meetings had been scheduled, according to the ILWU.

Gov. Ben Cayetano summed up his reaction in one word this morning: "Terrific."

The governor said he had been on call in case his help was needed to mediate the talks. But Cayetano said he had been confident all along that the two sides would reach an agreement. "I was never worried I always felt that they would work it out."

In the meantime, work at the docks will go on as normal.

"As far as the community is concerned, we have peace on the waterfront," Ho said.

No details of the agreement will be made available until it has first been presented to the union membership, Lapenia said.

Lapenia said he is confident a majority of union members will vote to ratify the agreement. Ratification votes will be scheduled after a memorandum detailing the negotiations has been prepared. Since the strike vote took four days, Lapenia expects a similar time frame for ratification.

The ILWU went into negotiations with stevedore companies Matson Terminals Inc., HT&T Co. and McCabe Hamilton and Renny Co. after union members terminated their extended contract Oct. 18. The contract originally expired on June 30.

In a series of votes last week, a total of 500 dockworkers on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island voted unanimously to strike if negotiations failed.

"At times it got tenuous, but cool heads prevailed," Lapenia said.

The workers were bargaining for parity with their West Coast counterparts, who came to their own agreement in July.

On the West Coast, ILWU hourly wages currently range from $27 to $62, including overtime. Their new three-year contract will raise wages to $28 to $65 an hour in 2001-2002.

Hawaii's dockworkers said they don't get the same hours as those on the West Coast, who are enjoying full ports and a booming economy.

While West Coast dockworkers work up to 75 hours a week. Workers average 38 to 46 hours here.

Negotiation meant compromise, Lapenia said. "That's the only way you come to some kind of mutual agreement. You don't get everything you want, both sides."

Both sides said they felt a sense of urgency to complete negotiations yesterday, after talks went on from 9 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. on Saturday and resumed at 10 a.m. yesterday.

Tim Guard, who represents McCabe Hamilton and Renny, taking a break to stretch his legs yesterday around 2:15 p.m., said, "You have to look at the threat to the community, the fear and the panic. If we ignore that, we've abandoned our responsibility."

The potential strike sent many isle residents flocking to the supermarkets to stock up on items like toilet paper, rice and canned goods.

Some residents remembered the effects of previous dock strikes. In 1949, docks were closed for five months. In 1971, shortages were caused by a 100-day strike on the West Coast.

"I think both parties know the impact on an island state," Lapenia said.

Cayetano, who spoke with management and the union before the weekend negotiations, said both sides realized the impact a strike would have on the state's economy.

"I think both sides deserve a great deal of credit," he said.

Star-Bulletin reporters Craig Gima and
Russ Lynch contributed to this report.

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