Monday, July 2, 2001

Talks avert
tugboat strike

Settlement comes after
3 days of intense talks

By Leila Fujimori

Although the threat of a tugboat workers strike led to a quick upswing in business, count Molokai grocer Mike Missal among those relieved that a walkout was averted.

"People were panicking and buying rice and all kinds of stuff," said the owner of Missal's Inc. "When they (barges) don't come here one week, that's big trouble here. People start to hoard. That's the panic."

After reaching a tentative agreement with Young Brothers Ltd. and sister company Hawaiian Tug & Barge at 3:30 a.m. yesterday, members of the Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific voted to ratify a new contract.

A strike of 59 union cooks, seamen, deckhands, first and second mates, engineers, dispatchers and operators would have threatened interisland barge service and operations in Honolulu Harbor.

Lanai and Molokai would have been hardest hit because they depend exclusively on interisland shipments, while other islands receive goods from the mainland.

Young Brothers is the only company licensed by the Public Utilities Commission to ship interisland cargo. Hawaiian Tug & Barge provides towing service, ship assists, barge charters and related services.

"We're very pleased we did not have a disruption in our service," said Mark Cohen, vice president of maritime services at Young Brothers and Hawaiian Tug & Barge.

The parties had been in negotiation since May 15.

Cohen said company negotiators kept the issue of disruption of service in mind, which showed in the intensity of the three-day negotiations that ran from 9 a.m. Friday to 3:30 a.m. yesterday with just four hours of break.

"The negotiation talks went well," Cohen said. "Both sides acted professionally. At times the discussions got heated, but we pushed through to the final end."

The new contract provides a 15 percent wage hike over three years, an 18 percent pension increase and a 25 percent increase in time off. Union members ratified it by a margin of more than 2-to-1.

"We didn't get everything we wanted, but it's better than we had," said union member Ron Ancheta as he left Young Brothers at 6 a.m. yesterday.

Tugboat crewman Ben Kaiwi called the new contract reasonable. "Most of the members were satisfied with what the company offered, according to the vote," he said. "Main thing, we get job instead of holding signs."

The parties remained at the bargaining table to try to beat a Saturday midnight deadline when the union contract was to expire. Union members voted Wednesday to strike if no settlement had been reached by then.

The rank and file streamed through the gates of Young Brothers on Nimitz Highway, where the negotiations were being held, at about 11 p.m. Saturday, in anticipation of ratifying a new deal by midnight.

Negotiators worked through the night to hammer out an acceptable contract.

The final vote was counted by 5:45 yesterday morning.

Among the key issues was parity of wages with longshoremen, said Bill Chung, vice president of personnel and industrial relations for the companies.

"It's really two different types of industries and two different types of work, but the company did not feel parity was appropriate," Chung said. "We think it was a generous offer."

The biggest increase came in the amount of time off. The additional 25 percent, which translates to about 100 days off for every 200 days of work, would allow workers to spend more time with family, Chung said. The extra time also will help increase safety and alertness, Chung said.

The union's last strike was for 26 days in 1986. Its 120 union members ratified a three-year contract calling for a 6 percent cut the first year, no change the second year and a 3 percent pay increase the final year.

Jonathan Lono Kane, IBU regional director, called the past three days of negotiations hard-core and tough, but members mostly seemed happy with the new contract.

"It's a pretty good agreement with substantial wage and pension increases," he said.

Although the union did not have all its requests met in the new contract, Kane was not terribly disappointed.

"Christmas comes only once a year," he said.

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