Saturday, October 23, 1999

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Dockworkers, left, and management resume talks today.
The union is prepared to negotiate around the clock
if necessary, it says.

‘Anxious’ dock
talks resume

Hawaii dockworkers have voted
to strike if demands are not met

Economist: Raise would barely affect prices

By Lori Tighe
and Harold Morse


Contract negotiations between Hawaii's dockworkers and stevedoring companies resumed today, with the dockworkers union saying it is ready to go "around the clock" if necessary.

The talks between Local 142 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and four shipping companies began as scheduled this morning at the ILWU Hall on Atkinson Drive.

"Everybody's anxious," Nate Lum, in charge of the union's negotiating committee, said as he entered the session. "We'll just see when we get in there."

Tim Ho, president of the Hawaii Employers Council, which is representing management, said, "We're very serious about where we are, and the bottom line is, we're here to negotiate."

Among the major issues is a union demand for 8 percent pay raises. Union members have said they are seeking parity with their West Coast counterparts, who reached a new pact in August.

The union went into the negotiations after Oahu dockworkers at two meetings yesterday voted unanimously to authorize their bargaining committee to call for a strike if necessary.

The Oahu vote came after similar, unanimous strike authorization votes this week on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island.

There are slightly more than 500 dockworkers statewide.

"We're prepared to go around the clock (in negotiations)," Local 142 President Eusebio Lapenia Jr said last night.

When asked if he thought Gov. Ben Cayetano might mediate as the governor has offered, Lapenia said the governor's help won't be necessary "if we can settle it amicably between the parties."

Hawaii ships in 90 percent of its goods, and a waterfront strike could have serious effects on the state's already troubled economy. Docks here were shut down for five months in 1949, and for 100 days in 1971 because of a West Coast strike.

Lapenia today said he's hopeful of a resolution and that the union would "exhaust all avenues" before striking.

The ILWU is in negotiations with shippers Matson Terminals Inc., Hawaii Stevedores Inc., HT&T Co. and McCabe Hamilton and Renny Co.

Union members have been working without a contract since Monday night. The existing contract expired June 30 but had been extended until the union terminated it. After that, sales of items such as rice, Spam and toilet paper boomed.

A dockworkers slowdown last week created a backlog of unloaded cargo ships in Honolulu Harbor, but ships still were being unloaded here this weekend.

Tyrone Tahara, an ILWU business agent, said last night that some news reports about the pay Hawaii dockworkers receive are in error.

Such figures as $90,000, $120,000 or $130,000 a year are earned by some West Coast longshoremen, but $58,000 a year is more the average here, he said.

West Coast longshoremen work every day, and some put in up to 75 hours a week, Tahara said. "They've got more ships."

Hawaii dockworkers, on the other hand, might work 38 to 46 hours a week, he said.

Tahara and other union members said the news media is portraying them in a negative light.

"We're here to negotiate and be fair with the state, the economy," Tahara said. "We're here to negotiate ... and get a fair contract."

Lum said he, too, was somewhat upset with union "bashing," and accused management of negotiating through the news media.

Pay demands would
barely affect prices,
says UH expert

By Russ Lynch


If the Hawaii dockworkers union is demanding the pay levels that rank-and-file members say they want -- parity with their West Coast counterparts -- then it is asking for a minimum of $55,000 to $72,000 a year depending on skills.

With overtime, that could go all the way up to $130,000 in the last year of a three-year contract.

But even if it does, the effect on the cost of goods in Hawaii will be minimal, says a University of Hawaii expert in labor costs.

The dockworkers are represented by Local 142 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and management is represented by the Hawaii Employers Council. As they prepared for their first bargaining session in more than a week this morning, both sides were refusing to comment on demands.

Both had decided early that they would not negotiate in the news media, and their no-comment stance hardened as the union gathered strike authorization votes through the week.

The only guide to what the union appears to be seeking, therefore, is the West Coast agreement covering some 10,000 workers that was reached in July between ILWU international headquarters and the San Francisco-based Pacific Maritime Association, representing about 100 West Coast employers.

That contract, effective since July 3, started with $26.68 an hour for the least-skilled waterfront worker, $31.22 an hour for the most-skilled individuals doing the physical handling -- including crane operators -- $29.58 to $32.98 for clerks and supervisors, and $34.68 for top mechanics.

On a middle-of-the-night graveyard shift with overtime, the rates range from $48.02 to $64.76.

In the third year of the three-year West Coast contract, those rates move up to a range from $27.18 an hour to $35.33 an hour with overtime pay going as high as $63.59.

For a 2,000-hour year, which employees say applies to the majority of the West Coast workers, the range goes from $55,000 to $130,000 in the last year.

The employers on the West Coast say looking at just the basic wage rates doesn't show the whole story. The Pacific Maritime Association said its members paid 2,000-hour workers an average $99,000 to $156,000 last year. The union says those figures must count benefit costs and other extras and that the wages-only figure is much lower.

Hawaii dockworkers say those figures certainly don't apply to them, since they don't work the hours put in by their counterparts on the West Coast, where a booming economy and busy ship traffic mean plenty of overtime hours.

If the Hawaii union gets the same increase the West Coast ILWU won -- 8 percent over three years -- it will have little effect on the cost of living in Hawaii, said Lawrence Boyd, a professor and labor economics expert at the University of Hawaii.

Boyd figures that, counting wages and benefits, an increase of that level would add only 1 cent to the cost of a 25-pound bag of rice. His estimates show that handling that product on the docks here now costs only about 7 cents a bag.

That, he said, is less than the handling cost in 1960, before the efficiencies gained from containerization.

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