West Coast dockworkers return to bargaining table
By Justin Pritchard
SAN FRANCISCO Contract negotiations between West Coast dockworkers and shipping lines resumed yesterday after a two-week hiatus filled with increasingly snappish rhetoric from both sides.
Since talks broke off in late July, the union representing 10,500 longshoremen has charged employers with courting federal intervention. Shipping lines have called for a mediator to break a stalemate that could endanger the distribution of billions of dollars worth of goods, which move through Pacific ports each year.
The longshoremen's contract expired July 1, but both sides agreed to rolling 24-hour extensions.
A new contract also is being negotiated for about 480 dockworkers in Hawai'i.
Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142 and the Hawaii Employers Council, which represents the stevedoring industry in Hawai'i, have agreed to extend their contract while a new agreement is being worked out. Hawai'i dockworkers traditionally have followed the lead of their West Coast counterparts on contract issues.
A strike by dockworkers could cripple Hawai'i's economy, which relies on shipping for about 90 percent of its goods.
In San Francisco yesterday, negotiators for the Pacific Maritime Association restarted talks at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's headquarters.
But after about three hours of "frank discussions," talks ended when union president James Spinosa left to tend to his gravely ill father in Southern California, said union spokesman Steve Stallone. It was unclear when talks would resume, he said.
Stallone and the shipping line were tight lipped about the substance of the day's talks.
Going into that meeting, each side had been leveling the same charges against the other: that their proposals are designed to be rejected, that they are bargaining in bad faith over job security and that they aren't compromising enough on wage and benefits proposals.
On Friday, association president Joseph Miniace called for an outside mediator to help break what have become adversarial negotiations.
Perhaps the most disputed issue is how to bring increased automation to the waterfront.
While $300 billion in goods will flow into and out of the Pacific's 29 major ports this year, that volume is projected to double in the next decade. Shipping lines complain West Coast ports won't be able to keep up unless they upgrade with new technology the union says that's fine as long as registered longshoremen get the benefits from increased efficiency.
With so much at stake, the Bush administration convened a task force to explore federal intervention and has been monitoring talks.