Seaport labor
talks collapse

A dockworkers slowdown could
affect supplies shipped to Hawaii

By Justin Pritchard
Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. >> Shipping lines and the dockworkers union said yesterday that talks over a new contract have broken down, raising the possibility of labor disruptions later this week at West Coast ports.

Each side gave different reasons for the impasse, but its effect is clear: As of last night, there will be no contract covering the dockworkers who handle the booming Pacific Rim trade at 29 major West Coast ports.

The sudden break means that the 10,500 members of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union can stage work slowdowns. If they do, the shipping lines that employ them say they will lock out the dockworkers.

Though the contract expired July 1, both sides had kept goods flowing with short-term extensions.

Any threat of a job action could touch off a buying frenzy in Hawaii.

Many small businesses suffered from bankruptcy and food shortages during the six-month 1949 dock strike.

The strike took place after Hawaii's longshore workers said they were tired of receiving lower wages than workers who were employed on the West Coast in the same company.

The strike lasted 171 days and was viewed as a last attempt by the Big 5 -- Alexander & Baldwin Inc., Amfac Inc., C. Brewer & Co., Castle & Cooke Inc. and Theo H. Davies & Co. -- to break labor unions.

Union spokesman Steve Stallone said that while no slowdown has been set, "the door is open" for legal job actions.

The talks are important to everyone who relies on goods shipped across the Pacific.

The ports handle more than $300 billion in trade annually, and a work stoppage would ripple through an already fragile American economy.

The lead negotiator for the Pacific Maritime Association said yesterday he was baffled by the breakdown and, based on experience, expects slowdowns could begin soon after Labor Day.

"The union just fired the first shot," said Joseph Miniace, the association's president. "I think this could be a turning point in negotiations."

He speculated that dockworkers would slow down starting tomorrow. If that happens, Miniace said, shipping lines would give a three-day warning period. If there were still slowdowns by week's end, shipping lines will make good on their promise of a lockout.

Since experiencing slowdowns during negotiations three years ago, Miniace said, shipping lines have staked a hard line on what they call "strike with pay."

The rupture came the day after both sides had ostensibly settled a major sticking point over health benefits.

The two sides said they had penned an agreement Saturday afternoon. A few negotiators went to a steakhouse for dinner and talked about two other trouble areas, arbitration and technology.

From there, recollections differ.

Yesterday morning, union negotiators were antagonistic and, after a brief standoff at the association's San Francisco headquarters, they stalked out, saying they were fed up, according to Miniace.

"We didn't hear the word slowdown. What we heard is, 'The union's going to do what it has to do,'" Miniace said. "That translates to, 'You guys can expect problems from us.'"

Union negotiators also promised that "'you can sit by the phone forever to wait for a call for us,'" Miniace said.

Stallone said longshoremen were getting stiffed at the table.

After agreeing on benefits Saturday, according to Stallone, Miniace said yesterday morning he would only sign on if the union would agree to an unacceptable change in the arbitration system.

"He totally switched everything," Stallone said. "We come to agreement, and every time we do, they change it."

Union negotiators left saying they would be back by midday tomorrow from a Labor Day rally in Los Angeles and that the shipping lines should call if they were willing to budge.

"Miniace said, 'That call will never come,'" according to Stallone.

In an interview yesterday, Miniace said he thought neither side would be so proud as to make an issue of who calls whom first.

"This is not a high school date," Miniace said. "We're not going to act like children."

Star-Bulletin reporter Rosemarie Bernardo
contributed to this report.

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --