Matson, unions work to reach agreement on contract
BY Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer
Crew members, including captains, on Matson Navigation Co.'s trans-Pacific cargo ships have authorized their union to call a strike if a contract agreement is not reached.
Matson is the state's largest shipping company, carrying about two-thirds of the containerized freight shipped to Hawai'i. About 80 percent of all goods sold in Hawai'i arrives via ship.
The crew members' contract expires at midnight tonight. Talks between the company and union resume this morning in San Francisco.
"Matson feels that there is still sufficient time remaining to work out an agreement," according to a statement from the company.
Still, union members voted in favor of the strike authorization this week, a move intended to give the workers leverage in their negotiations.
"Unfortunately, things are getting down to the wire and no movement has been made and so we reluctantly advise the public that this (a strike) is a possibility," said attorney Charles Khim, who represents the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots.
Three unions are involved in the talks. The Masters, Mates and Pilots union and the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association each represent about 100 workers in Hawai'i, while membership in the American Radio Association has slightly fewer members locally.
Contracts for all three unions were set to expire 10 days ago but were extended until today. The contracts were last negotiated in 2001 but were reopened in 2006.
The unions are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act, meaning that workers could go on strike as soon as their contracts expire.
The average pay for an MM&P captain is about $220,000, including overtime, according to Matson. An MM&P chief mate earns about $176,000 a year, the company said.
The contract talks do not involve workers at Matson's competitors, Horizon Lines and Pasha Transport Lines LLC.
DUAL PAY SCALE
Yesterday, members of the MM&P union handed out fliers about the stalled negotiations in front of the Downtown headquarters of Matson's parent company, Alexander & Baldwin Inc.
Khim said union members are not trying to scare the public but believe it's their duty to inform people about a potential strike given the lack of progress in the contract talks.
"It's like a situation where you're waiting to see if there's a hurricane," Khim said. "It's better to have the hurricane preparedness kit together when a hurricane turns into a tropical storm rather than having it the opposite way around."
Khim said one of the main sticking points is a dual pay scale for Matson's ocean-bound workers, which the company wants and the union opposes. He said workers also want the company to beef up the workers' pension fund, which he said is underfunded.
Since 2003, Matson has acquired four new cargo container ships, said MM&P Vice President Don Marcus.
To pay for the ships, Matson asked union members working on the newer ships to take a pay cut to avoid outsourcing the MM&P jobs, Marcus said.
Marcus said union members want the pay restoration for employees hired to work on the new ships.
"Now, the company has gone back on its promise to bring the wages back to where they were after they made enough money to recoup the cost on their vessels," Khim said.