warn of strike as
deadline nears

Without an agreement the
union's contract expires on Monday

By Justin Pritchard
Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. >> Just four days before their contract expires, hundreds of longshoremen rallied today to tell shippers they will strike if there is no progress at the negotiating table.

"We demand a share of the wealth we produce every day," said Jim Spinosa, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The rally came the day after union officials offered their first public comment on the talks, which they said have made little progress since beginning May 13.

The contract between the Pacific Maritime Association and 10,500 West Coast longshoremen controls the flow of goods through America's 29 major Pacific ports. Last year, that trade amounted to $260 billion in cargo.

Most of the goods shipped to Hawaii pass through West Coast ports.

The contract expires Monday. A strike or lockout would slow goods from Asia to a trickle and ripple through the nation's economy.

Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said today at the Oakland rally that his 1.4 million members, who drive the trucks that deliver and pick up goods from the port, would honor and join any picket line set up by the longshoremen.

But even if there's no deal by the deadline, labor unrest isn't guaranteed. In 1999, the deadline came and went, longshoremen kept working, and about two weeks later the two sides settled. President Bush also can impose a cooling-off period to kick-start negotiations and keep longshoremen working. West Coast docks have had strikes in 1934, 1936-37, 1948 and 1971.

The union and shippers' association have been negotiating in San Francisco, where both are based.

Yesterday, union spokesman Steve Stallone said the talks were stuck on issues including salaries and benefits. There had yet to be substantive discussion, he said, on shippers' top priorities -- modernization to make the ports more automated, efficient and secure. Instead, shippers came to the table asking for concessions in health coverage and a wage freeze, according to Stallone. A full-time longshoreman earned $107,000 last year and a full-time foreman averaged $167,000, according to maritime association records.

As both sides continue to meet, businesses have been stockpiling goods in case overseas deliveries all but end.

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