Concrete workers walked the picket line yesterday at Ameron Hawaii's Pahounui Drive facility on Sand Island.

Strike hits
second firm

Hawaiian Cement joins
Ameron in a walkout after
11th-hour talks fail

More than 110 Hawaiian Cement employees went on strike this morning, joining Ameron Hawaii cement workers who hit the picket lines yesterday.

Talks between Hawaiian Cement and Teamsters Local 996, which represents workers from both companies, broke off an hour-and-a-half before the 12:01 a.m. strike deadline.

Teamsters President Mel Kahele said, "It was very disappointing. We explored a lot of ideas, yet the company is standing firm."

Michael Coad, Hawaiian Cement vice president, said, "We feel tonight's discussions were productive. We are happy that the mediator called us back to the table. There certainly were some good ideas passed back and forth."

More than 140 Ameron Hawaii cement workers began walking strike lines early yesterday at the company's sites in Sand Island, Kapaa Quarry and Campbell Industrial Park.

Hawaiian Cement workers will walk picket lines today at the company's plant in Halawa.

Teamsters attorney Mike Chambrella said "morale is high" on the Ameron lines, where union officials say participation is at 100 percent. "We're telling the guys not to burn themselves out, because we can't get them to go home," Chambrella said.

New negotiations between the Teamsters and Ameron are scheduled for 5 p.m. today at the union's headquarters in Kalihi.

Ameron and Hawaiian Cement workers are covered under two different contracts, which expired Dec. 31, and Teamsters officials have been negotiating with the companies since November.

Talks between the Teamsters and Hawaiian Cement began about 6 p.m. yesterday and continued for more than four hours as federal mediator Ken Kawamoto bounced between the two groups, pitching proposals and counterproposals.

The two sides say they are still far apart on discussions of sick leave and medical benefits, both of which are also issues Ameron is discussing with the union.

George West, Ameron Hawaii vice president of operations, said, "We remain cautiously optimistic" about today's talks.

West said in the company's proposed contract, the percentage of medical payments each employee would pay for has been increased by 10 percentage points to 30 percent. Ameron Hawaii's employees on Maui and the Big Island are unaffected by the negotiations, company officials said.

Coad said last night the percentage that employees would have to pay for medical treatment was the major sticking point.

Chambrella declined to discuss the union's proposal for either Ameron or Hawaiian Cement last night.

Trucks sat idle yesterday as a security guard watched strikers at Ameron's Sand Island site.

Coad said Thursday that the company has been through at least three previous strikes, one each in 1984, 1988 and 1992.

The most recent cement workers strike comes during a boom in the state's construction industry. Analysts have said the work stoppages could backlog a number of large projects islandwide.

That is because both Ameron and Hawaiian Cement rank among the island's largest concrete providers.

West said that as many as 40 construction projects, including the University of Hawaii's medical school in Kakaako, have been put on hold because of the strike.

The city and state have also had to put off public works maintenance and road repairs until the cement companies are back in operation, according to officials.

On the Ameron picket lines yesterday, strike captain Sam Keliihoomalu said union members were upbeat and positive.

"We're gonna do what we got to do," he said.

Hawaiian Cement workers have a similar outlook.

"Every day I go to work, I try to make a difference," said Adam Joy, a father of three who has worked for Hawaiian Cement for 13 years. "It's frustrating. Bills are going to be not paid. (But) it's at a point where that doesn't matter. It's to the point that we are going to fight for what we believe in."

Meanwhile, the strikes have meant more work for a handful of small- to medium-size concrete suppliers on Oahu, including Island Ready-Mix, which is a nonunion sister company of Ameron Hawaii.

"People are coming to us," said Bob Singlehurst, vice president for quarry operations at Grace Pacific Concrete Products Inc.

"We're on 10-hour days, six days a week" to meet the demand, he said, adding that sales have jumped 25 percent to 30 percent since Ameron workers went on strike.


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