Strike fears spark
Rice, paper towels and toilet
tissue are among the hot items at
big box retailers such as Costco
Dockworkers on job with no pactBy Gordon Y.K. Pang
Neighbor isle shoppers also stock up
Strike wouldn't stop military mess
Shoppers flooded the checkouts at the Pearl Highlands Sam's Club in a sea of yellow bags of rice and white packages of paper towels.
Nearly every shopping cart at Sam's yesterday afternoon was piled with either 25- and 50-pound bags of rice or 15-roll packages of paper towels.
Bathroom tissue paper? Forget it. All toilet paper at Sam's was gone by 11 a.m. Similar reports came in from both Costco outlets as well. Rice was gone at Costco by 6 p.m.
"We heard from the people on the radio that there might be a strike," said Edith Clementa of Makakilo, who commandeered four, 25-pound bags of Hinode rice for $6.69 at Sam's for her family of four.
Other items Clementa stocked up on were laundry detergent, orange juice and canned Vienna sausage.
The Rev. Steve Schaeffer, pastor of Grace Redemption Ministries in Lihue, was talking to Sam's managers about scheduling a shipment of rice and other items.
Schaeffer and wife April said Sam's was one of only several stops they were making in preparation for a potential strike. They were also to look at generators and other necessities.
"On Kauai, everybody's thinking about (Hurricane) Iniki," Steve Schaeffer said. "We already know what it was like not to have food arrive. The people got to see what price-gouging was like."
Rick Lehner of Kapolei said he has rice at home. Paper towels, however, were another matter. He picked up a 15-pack bundle of the towels, which he said will last his family of four about two weeks.
"Every time they dry their hands," he said, shaking his head.
Lehner said he doesn't blame dock workers for threatening to strike. "I'm a union man, I'm kind of sympathetic to them," said the longtime United Airlines employee. "I've gone through it myself."
At worst, he said, "We can always fly (goods) in. That would increase our freight business."
But not everyone was supportive of the strikers' plight after hearing reports that dockers make upwards of $90,000 annually.
"I don't think they'll get much sympathy," said Keith Robello of Pearl City. "It's not like the stevedores of old when everything was back-breaking. Everything's containerized."
The rush in traditional supermarkets had not reached panic proportions like the big-box retailers.
Taka Suzuki, store manager at 99 Ranch Market, said rice appeared to be moving a little more briskly than average.
Other than that, he said, "It looks normal here. Everybody's just buying what they need for today." Suzuki predicted the frenzy would start at traditional markets after the big-boxers run out of staples like rice and tissue paper -- if a strike does happen.
David Higashiyama, vice president of marketing for Times Supermarkets, agreed.
"There are no major problems yet but you can see that the problems are imminent," he said.
"We know that unless replenishment comes in a week or so, we're going to run into some problems."
By late afternoon yesterday, the Liliha Times was limiting purchases of toilet paper.
Sale-priced rice and toilet paper were sold out at the store.
Karen Kami of Kamehameha Heights bought a 20-pound bag of Tsuru Mai at $9.99. "It's actually a little expensive, but that's OK," she said, noting that her supply at home was running low. Her family usually goes through a bag every four months or so.
Kami was also headed for the tissue paper section, noting her family was down to eight rolls.
"I'm not too much of stocker, but maybe I am now," Kami said.
Stan Hino of Hawaii Kai said his family of three was down to four rolls of tissue and he held a 12-pack in his hand as he mulled the prices on rice.
He said during the 1971 West Coast dock strike that shut down Hawaii's ports, he stood in line at Sears waiting to purchase a 48-roll case that he divvied up with in-laws.
If it wasn't for the limit, he would have done the same at Times yesterday, Hino said.
Hino said he doesn't blame dock workers for threatening a strike. "They want to make as much money as they can," he said. "If I worked at the dock, maybe I'd feel the same way."
The union: International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing 507 dockworkers throughout the state, including 427 on Oahu.
THE DOCK SITUATION
The employers: Four stevedoring companies. They are Hawaii Stevedores Inc.; Matson Terminals Inc.; McCabe, Hamilton & Renny Co.; and HT&T Co.
The issues: Pay, benefits, safety and working conditions on the Hawaii docks.
The wages: Workers say they want parity with the West Coast, where ILWU hourly wages range from $27 to $62 (including overtime) currently, rising to the $28-$65 in 2002-02. Hawaii stevedores note that they do not work as many hours as their counterparts on the West Coast, where the economy is stronger and the ports are busier.
The contract: Expired June 30 but was extended by mutual agreement. Extension ended 6 p.m. yesterday after 72 hours notice from the union.
The possibilities: Anything from working without a contract while bargaining, to slowdowns and stop-work meetings, to informational picketing and sympathy slowdowns by other unions. Ultimately, a strike is possible but the union has said it would poll its members on each island before calling a strike. The last vote is scheduled for Oahu on Friday.
The history: There has been no strike of Hawaii docks since a five-month ILWU walkout in 1949, but a 100-day West Coast dock strike in 1971 had a similar effect by closing almost all shipping to Hawaii.
Dockworkers on jobBy Russ Lynch
today with no pact
ILWU dockworkers across Hawaii went to work today without a contract, while their leaders gathered votes to let them call a statewide strike in their battle for a new pact.
Union leaders were not available for comment but the management side of the waterfront dispute issued a statement calling on the ILWU to return to the bargaining table.
The Hawaii Employers Council, the stevedoring industry committee representing the four companies that employ the ILWU members, said repeated efforts to get hold of union leadership have gone unanswered.
"If the union wants negotiations to resume, now would be an excellent time to simply pick up the phone and say so. We hope they realize that any further delay will be injurious to Hawaii and all its residents," said Tim Ho, chief management negotiator, in a statement issued late this morning.
Gov. Ben Cayetano also issued a statement urging the two sides to get together. "Lack of communication has been a significant problem," said Cayetano, who added that the parties should understand the damage a strike would do to Hawaii's economic recovery.
Federal mediator Ken Kawamoto said he was also trying to get hold of the union and management, to sound them out about the possibility of the Mediation and Conciliation Service stepping in help end the dispute. Cargo appeared to be moving across the docks at a near-normal pace this morning, after some reports of a slowdown yesterday.
Despite the expiration of the previous union contract just after 6 p.m. yesterday, a federal court order against walkouts and slowdowns is still in effect.
A hearing is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon before U.S. District Judge David Ezra, who will consider a union motion to have the no-slowdown order rescinded. .
If the order is dropped, the 500-member Local 142 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is free to take whatever job action it wants, as long as it complies with labor laws.
That could include a strike and the union is piling up strike authorization votes. So far, 17 of the 18 ILWU members on the Kauai docks voted for a strike, as did all of the 31-member Maui unit. Votes were scheduled for Hilo today and Oahu Friday.
At the Maui vote meeting yesterday, ILWU leader Eusebio "Bo" Lapenia said the union is willing to negotiate, but four months of negotiations have not yielded satisfactory results. he Shipping industry sources, who did not want to be identified, said it seems early in the negotiating process for the union to take such actions as cancelling the contract and taking a strike vote.
When the previous contract was negotiated three years ago, after a June 30 expiration, a tentative agreement on the Hawaii docks was not reached until mid-November. Matson Navigation Co. and Sea-Land Service Co., operators of most of the containerships that carry cargo between the mainland and Hawaii, said movement on the docks was improving but both noted some slowness yesterday.
Matson manager Bal Dreyfus said early this morning that he was not aware of any particular snags in cargo movement today. Jack Sutherland, said movement on and off his company's ships last night and this morning was running about 15 to 20 percent below normal.
Meanwhile, both sides are refusing to comment on the details of the contract talks.
Members of the ILWU rank and file have said the union wants parity with its West Coast equivalent.
West Coast ILWU members last year received average pay ranging from $99,000 to $156,000, depending on the job classification.
Hawaii workers say they don't receive that much because they work fewer hours than the West Coast workers, but they believe that should at least be getting the same hourly rate.