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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 6, 2002

West Coast dock negotiations suspended

By Nancy Cleeland
Los Angeles Times

A federal mediator called for a one-week break in contract negotiations covering West Coast dockworkers yesterday, after the shipping industry and longshore union failed to reach agreement on a pension package.

The adjournment is a sign of frustration in the San Francisco hotel, where talks have been held for nearly two weeks, despite a breakthrough deal on labor-saving technology announced last Friday.

In a brief written statement, Peter Hurtgen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, indicated that the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents 79 shipping lines and terminal operators, needs time to review the union's demands for a greatly enhanced pension package.

Spokesmen for both the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Maritime Association declined comment, citing the mediator's request for a news blackout during negotiations.

But sources close to the talks said earlier that hopes of a quick mediated settlement faded over the weekend as tempers flared over pension proposals.

In early October, the PMA offered an increase of nearly 25 percent in the pension plan, bringing the retirement pay for a fully-vested longshore worker to about $50,000 per year.

The ILWU said it expects a larger increase now, in exchange for accepting new computer systems and other technological advances that will cause the loss of hundreds of high-paid clerk jobs.

"While the ILWU is prepared to continue with the negotiations, and our talks have proceeded in good faith, management has requested additional time to evaluate anticipated technology-based operational savings and pension funding costs into future years," Hurtgen said.

Talks are set to resume Nov. 13.

Hurtgen was given authority over the negotiations by an Oct. 8 federal court order that reopened West Coast ports after a 10-day employer lockout. Shipping lines said the lockout was in response to disruptive union slowdowns.

The parties, which handle about $300 billion in cargo that moves through the ports each year, have been in negotiations since mid-May.