Labor availability
worries isle shippers

The West Coast docks open
today, but the labor demand
is likely to create a setback

Ports open to backlog

By Russ Lynch

The good news that the West Coast docks were to be open for business again late today, after an 11-day halt, is not entirely good news for Hawaii.

The sudden demand for labor to work the 200-plus ships that are waiting at West Coast ports will mean less labor available to work ships in the Hawaii trade, shipping companies say.

CSX Lines and Matson Navigation Co. have been able to get all the West Coast dock labor they want because only the Hawaii and Alaska trades were being worked.

Both said they expect a setback as their special exemption for Hawaii gets replaced by an 80-day reopening of the docks to all shippers.

Ships operated by Matson and CSX have been moving since Saturday under an exemption to the port shutdown granted by the management and union sides because of Hawaii's huge reliance on open shipping for food and other vital goods.

Now it appears the ships will be worked on a "first-come, first-served" basis and those that arrived on the coast first, before the lockout began, will be the first to be unloaded and reloaded, said Brian Taylor, vice president and general manager of the CSX Hawaii-Guam division.

"I don't know exactly how the (labor) allocations are going to be made," he said. Meanwhile, the news that the docks are reopening is good.

"The freight is moving, and it is going to get here," Taylor said.

Roger Godfrey, president of Times Super Market Ltd., said "I think it's favorable in the overall picture, but in the short term it could hurt us because there is such a jam of ships waiting to get into port" on the West Coast, particularly at Los Angeles.

"A slowdown will come in a few days," he said. Oakland won't have as big a crush as Los Angeles, so Times is trying to get its mainland goods moved to Oakland for pickup there, Godfrey said.

The slowdown in the flow to Hawaii could last for the next few weeks, he said, but the good news is that "there are goods coming in."

Matson has to request its West Coast waterfront labor from International Longshore & Warehouse Union hiring halls in advance of its sailings, said Jeff Hull, a Matson spokesman in San Francisco. "You just have to be in line, depending on when you need the labor," and it has been taking 24 to 48 hours to line up the labor to work a particular ship, he said.

But with 200 or more ships idled on the West Coast looking for labor at the same time, lead time could grow. That would be particularly true for cargo out of Los Angeles, where most of the idled ships are waiting.

Current sailings for Matson and CSX are already being handled, however.

The Matson containership Kauai left Seattle for Honolulu Monday night, the Ewa left Los Angeles last night and the Matsonia left Oakland late last night, Hull said.

CSX had one ship that left Los Angeles Monday morning, the Consumer. It is due in Honolulu Friday.

The CSX Navigator was scheduled to leave this afternoon from Oakland and arrive in Honolulu late Sunday.

The schedules for later sailings get a bit less certain, the shipping companies said.

But they are glad Hawaii retailers' needs will be met for the Christmas season, when they do the biggest part of their annual sales.

Still uncertain is how the union representing 10,500 dock workers will react to a rarely invoked court interference in a labor dispute.

The ILWU has said that if its members were forced back to work without a new contract, they would have to work carefully because the sudden need to handle so many ships would create safety issues. In other words, a slowdown would take place just like the one that caused management to impose the second lockout that started Sept. 29.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the management side in the dispute, warned it could take six weeks or more to move the backlog of goods.

Late yesterday, the PMA said it would be calling in workers for the shift to start at 6 p.m. today, West Coast time.

A new West Coast labor contract still has to be negotiated.

Hawaii dockworkers, whose contract has been extended since its June 30 expiration date, are waiting to see the terms of the final West Coast agreement.

Traditionally, the ILWU in Hawaii, now down to fewer than 1,000 stevedores and allied workers, waits for an agreement on the West Coast before wrapping up the local pact. The terms are usually similar.

Pacific Maritime Association

International Longshore and Warehouse Union

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