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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

West Coast dock talks veer into security issues

By Justin Pritchard
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Negotiators for West Coast dockworkers and shipping lines returned to the bargaining table yesterday, only the second time they've met since late July.

Signalman Gerald Lipscomb, a union dockworker, guides a truck into position in Long Beach, Calif. Many U.S. retailers are girding for a shutdown of West Coast ports.

Bloomberg News Service

The union representing 10,500 longshoremen at all 29 major Pacific ports said it wants to focus on port security — which is not one of the major disagreements that have brought the sides to a deadlock.

"We will raise these issues again at the table until we can create an effective plan to secure our ports," said James Spinosa, president and chief negotiator for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Following an afternoon of talks, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association reported no major new proposals and called the port security issue a "red herring" to distract from negotiations on benefits, wages and other flashpoints.

Since their contract expired July 1, the union and association of shipping lines have focused on compensation, as well as how to make the waterfront more efficient without stripping union jobs.

Since talks began, the union and shipping lines have renewed their contract on a stopgap basis. The document covers Pacific ports that handled $320 billion worth of goods between June 2001 and June 2002, according to association statistics.

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.

With so much at stake, the Bush administration has been monitoring talks and convened a task force to explore federal intervention.

Each side has accused the other of offering proposals designed to be rejected, of bargaining in bad faith over job security, and of refusing to compromise on wage and benefits proposals.

Despite the rhetoric, both sides have been reluctant to court a work stoppage — either a strike or a lockout.

Still, they appeared to be moving further apart in late July when the union requested a break.

The sides met again in San Francisco, where both are based, on Aug. 13, but recessed almost immediately when Spinosa's father fell ill and died.

Yesterday, Spinosa sounded another new theme that could signal a change in union strategy.

He urged shipping lines to let dockworkers inspect ships coming to port more closely, saying that they could be vessels for terrorists.