Oahu dockworkersBy Russ Lynch
Hawaii's longshore labor contract has been settled for the next three years by a unanimous vote of Oahu dockworkers, who make up the vast majority of International Longshore & Warehouse Union members throughout the st ate.
A voice vote at the ILWU hall on Atkinson Drive, by more than 100 of the union's 350 Oahu longshore members, yesterday made it clear that the contract will be ratified statewide, raising the workers' basic wage just short of 8 percent by mid-2001.
Similar ratification meetings are scheduled through this week on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island, but the small numbers in those units and lack of dissent at the Oahu meeting leave no doubt that the pact covering about 500 workers statewide will be ratified. The ratification will put to an end a strike scare that had many Hawaii residents hoarding toilet paper, rice and other items last month.
Two much smaller units of the ILWU, representing wharf clerks and mechanics, have yet to negotiate new contracts, as their negotiations usually follow ratification of the main longshore contract. However, there is no strike threat from them and in the past they have always settled amicably.
Union leaders told the Oahu meeting that a longshore pay increase of $1 an hour, effective retroactively from July 1, followed by another 50 cents on July 1, 2000, and a final 50 cents on July 1, 2001, brings them parity with their West Coast counterparts when other changes in the contract, such as new pension benefits, are considered.
The Hawaii pact raises the base wage to $26.12 an hour, from $25.12, in the first year and to $27.12 an hour in the contract's final year. ILWU members who work eight hours a day for five days a week could end up making from about $61,000 next year to $67,400 in 2001.
But union officials at yesterday's meeting said the key to how much the workers make is the opportunity to work.
Eusebio "Bo" Lapenia, president of ILWU Local 42, said after the meeting that since ship movements and waterfront manning requirements in Hawaii create less demand than on the West Coast, the $90,000-plus annual wages reported there are rare in Hawaii.
"Those on the basic rate (in Hawaii) make from the high $40,000s to the $70,000s," he said, with a few highly skilled, high-demand workers making in the $90,000 area.
Money was not the biggest concern for the membership, as the union discussed pay for only a few minutes of yesterday's more than 1-hour meeting. Working conditions, jurisdiction on the docks against other unions, pensions and other issues took up most of the time.
"Jurisdiction was one of the key issues," Lapenia said.
"Along with jurisdiction comes work opportunity," he said, adding that without work opportunity the union loses clout to create better conditions and benefits for its members.
Dockworkers retiring after the July 1, 1999 start of the new contract will get a pension of $80 a month for each year they have worked, up to 35 years. The previous pension was $57 a month per year of work.
On July 1, 2000, the pension goes up to $90 a month and on July 1 2001, to $95 a month per year of work, for a maximum pension of $39,990 a year.
Those who retired before this past July 1 will receive an additional $100 a month this y ear and an extra $30 a month in each of the two remaining years of the new contract.
Lapenia said the Hawaii union did achieve its desired parity with the West Coast workers.
"In future negotiations they won't treat Hawaii as second-class workers. We won the same kind of pensions, the same wage increases as the West Coast," Lapenia said in an interview after the meeting.
Members were clearly happy the contract issue was behind them and there were smiles all round as some members stayed and had a beer or soft drink and pupus, while others had to leave for a 1 p.m. starting time on the docks.
Several said they were happy with the gains made in the contract, while some who did not want to be quoted by name said they expect a tougher time negotiating the next contract, to start July 1, 2002.
Wendell Kiaha, a worker for one of the smaller longshore employers in the group contract, Hawaii Stevedores Inc., said he was happy that the Hawaii pay and benefits work out the same as those on the West Coast.
"The West Coast workers do the jobs we do," he said, and paying equal benefits is only fair.
But Kiaha said the overall demand for West Coast dockworkers is far greater than in Hawaii.
"At Hawaii Stevedores, we work only about three days a week average," he said.
Besides Hawaii Stevedores, the other companies employing dockworkers in Hawaii are McCabe Hamilton & Renny Co., Matson Terminals Inc., and HT&T Co. Management officials could not be reached for comment.