Friday, March 19, 2004

George West, Ameron Hawaii vice president of operations, driving the vehicle, was temporarily stopped by picketers at the Sand Island facility yesterday as he left for afternoon meetings.

Union declines
Ameron’s ‘final’ deal

Negotiators refuse to put the
"best and final" offer to a vote

Union negotiators rejected Ameron Hawaii's "last, best and final" offer last night, deciding not to send the proposal to the company's 144 striking workers for a vote.

Union bargaining team members also pledged to "stand on our position" of no increased medical insurance premium co-payments.

The move, which comes just a day after Teamsters Local 996 officials reached a tentative deal with Hawaiian Cement, threatens to stall talks in the 43-day-old Ameron strike, which has been largely centered on the company's push to increase its workers' share of medical premiums.

"We're very, very disappointed that the committee decided not to take the proposal to the general membership," said Ameron Vice President George West last night. "We need to get this thing resolved and get back to work."

West said it was his "previous understanding" that the union had an obligation to take the company's "last, best and final" offer to its membership, and added that he would be researching the issue today.

He also said it was "premature" to talk about the possibility of hiring replacement workers to fill in for striking employees.

In its latest proposal yesterday, Ameron offered a $3.80 hourly wage increase in the first year of a five-year contract and also sought a 30 percent medical co-payment. Under the proposal, the union also had the option of taking the wage and co-payment increases in the contract's third year while accepting no pay raises but keeping the medical co-payments at 20 percent for the first two years.

Ameron workers earn an average of $72,000 a year.

"We're hoping that Ameron realizes that our people will not accept the 30 percent co-payment," said Teamsters President Mel Kahele. "We'll continue to strike."

Sam Keeliihoomalu, a member of the 16-member negotiating committee who voted to reject Ameron's offer, said striking workers are "standing together" on the picket lines.

"We're going to stand on our position," he said. "We're standing by our membership."

Negotiations between Ameron and the Teamsters began about 2:30 yesterday afternoon, and the company's "final" offer was passed to the union three hours later.

West left the union's headquarters in Kalihi shortly after presenting the company's "final" offer to the Teamsters, saying he would receive word on whether the union had accepted through federal mediator Ken Kawamoto. The union announced it had rejected the proposal about 7 p.m.

"We presented (an offer) ... that contains a generous wage increase," West said before he left, adding that the company put forth the proposal "in the interest of expediting this negotiation process."

As Ameron workers return to their strike lines today, Hawaiian Cement's 67 concrete workers will vote on whether to ratify a five-year contract that includes a wage increase and extended medical coverage for retirees.

Voting will take place at Teamsters Hall in Kalihi from noon to 1:30 p.m. If the workers vote to accept the agreement, they would be back to work by Monday morning.

Hawaiian Cement Vice President Michael Coad was busy planning his workers' return yesterday and coordinating the company's hectic schedule over the weeks ahead.

"We are trying to get as many of our jobs caught up as soon as possible," he said. Next week, workers are scheduled to pour between 1,100 and 1,400 yards of concrete. Coad said a "good week" is a 1,000-yard concrete pour.

Each truck holds 10 yards of concrete.

Construction industry insiders reacted to the possibility of a resolution in the Hawaiian Cement strike with relief yesterday, saying they are eager to make up for lost time.

"The sun is shining," said Danny Graham, owner of Graham Builders. The company is backlogged by about half a dozen custom homes, he said, adding that the strike "gave us a hiccup, gave us time to catch our breath, and away we go on Monday."

At Gentry Homes, President Bob Brant said he hoped "to be able to catch up to production depending on the timing of delivery of the concrete."

The company stopped production after the strike and laid off all its subcontractors, about 300 workers.

Schuler Homes President Mike Jones said his company is behind by about 30 houses. He estimates the strike-induced delays have cost the company $500 to $1,000 daily.

"You're dealing with lot of homes, subcontractors' lives, buyers' lives," he said. "This whole slowdown has affected a lot of people, so it's going to take some time to get back up and running again."


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