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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 30, 2002

Hawai'i still vulnerable to strike

By Susan Hooper
Advertiser Staff Writer

Although Hawai'i relies less on imports than in the past, much of what its residents consume still arrive via ship.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

The effects of even the threat of a West Coast longshore strike or work slowdown are already visible in Hawai'i in the form of anxious consumers stocking up on basics such as paper products and rice.

And even with a resolution on the West Coast, anxiety is likely to linger because Hawai'i's longshore industry still has to negotiate its own contract.

But any job action would have to drag on for several weeks or months to send prolonged shudders through the state's economy, analysts say.

"If a strike is relatively short, on the order of two to three weeks, we'll see some shortages of items and perhaps some increases in prices, but we wouldn't see a long-term impact on the economy," said Christopher Grandy, an economist and associate professor of public administration at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. "If a strike is a lot longer than that, we could start seeing a negative impact on, say, personal income, unemployment rates or other aggregate measures of the economy."

 •  Ports affected by contract negotiations

These are the 29 major West Coast ports affected.

Aberdeen/Grays Harbor, Wash.
Anacortes, Wash.
Astoria, Ore.
Bellingham, Wash.
Benicia, Calif.
Crockett, Calif.
Eureka, Calif.
Everett, Wash.
Kalama, Wash.
Long Beach, Calif.
Longview, Wash.
Los Angeles
Newport, Ore.
North Bend/Coos Bay, Ore.
Oakland, Calif.
Olympia, Wash.
Port Angeles, Wash.
Port Gamble, Wash.
Port Hueneme, Calif.
Redwood City, Calif.
Richmond, Calif.
San Diego
San Francisco
Stockton, Calif.
Tacoma, Wash.
Vancouver, Wash.
West Sacramento, Calif.

Source: Pacific Maritime Association; International Longshore and Warehouse Union

The West Coast members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and their employers group, the Pacific Maritime Association, started talks in May.

Hawai'i longshore workers negotiate their contracts separately from their West Coast counterparts.

On Friday, the Islands' stevedore employers and Local 142 of the longshore union agreed to an indefinite contract extension But the West Coast tensions have served to illustrate once again Hawai'i's vulnerability to any longshore job action since about 90 percent of the goods that the state residents consume come in by ship.

A Hawai'i longshore strike in 1949 lasted six long months.

The last West Coast longshore strike, in 1971, lasted more than 100 days. The most recent threat came in Hawai'i in 1999 when a new contract was signed only after a work stoppage, contract termination and a union strike-authorization vote.

Much has changed for Hawai'i consumers since the early 1970s, including the growth of catalog and Internet shopping, in which most purchases are delivered by air. In addition, the post-plantation development of Hawai'i's small farming industry means many fruits and vegetables consumed in the Islands are grown here.

"As far as cabbage, bell peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, green onions and bananas, they grow a lot of products locally," said Kelvin Shigemura, vice president of Armstrong Produce. "So it's not like back in 1971, when sugar cane and pineapple were dominant. Now we have all this extra ag land that's producing this product, so the amount of imports is not as great as in past years."

Nonetheless, Armstrong Produce has brought in extra staples such as potatoes, onions and carrots — "things that can last in your ice box for a few weeks or so," Shigemura said.

Hawai'i consumers and retailers would not be the only ones to suffer in a longshore job action. The state's tourism industry, which is still recovering from the effects of the Sept. 11 attacks, could be dealt another harsh blow.

One key reason is the growing trend for travelers to book trips closer to their vacation dates, said Fredrick Collison, professor of transportation and marketing with the University of Hawai'i's School of Travel Industry Management.

"With shorter booking periods, if there is a longshoreman's strike, there probably will be some people who will say, 'Gee, I don't know what the situation is like out there, so we'll just go somewhere else,' " he said. "And you've got to bear in mind that this is our peak season."

Any possibility of a longshore job action seems particularly cruel to some local observers, since it would follow not only the September attacks but also Hawai'i's decade of economic doldrums. But Grandy thinks the lessons learned during the 1990s might serve Hawai'i businesses well.

"Once we got over the shock after Sept. 11," he said, "a number of people began to realize that Hawai'i was probably not in a bad place to recover economically — that this 10-year period of struggling to find our place and sort through issues of deregulation and get costs under control and rethink market position — a lot of that work had been going on for the last 10 or 12 years. If we were to have to face a strike of (some) length, it's probably better that we face it where we are now rather than, say, after a period of economic boom or some sort of bubble."

Reach Susan Hooper at 525-8064 or shooper@honoluluadvertiser.com.