Matson contract deadline looms for sailors and marine firemen

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UPDATE (June 29, 2013): Strike averted, Matson deal reached

Crewmembers in charge of sailing Matson ships are nearing a deadline to reach a new contract.

KHON2 learned Wednesday night that if both sides don’t have a deal by July 1, the workers can walk off the job.

Union heads are flying into Hawaii to talk about details, but it certainly leaves businesses who rely on these ships uneasy about the days ahead.

Charles Khim, the attorney representing the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific and the Marine Firemen’s Union, spoke with KHON2 saying if both unions can’t reach a new contract with Matson Navigation Company, they will walk off the job.

Both unions took an authorization vote to strike and have given legal notice to the company.

Their contract ends at midnight on June 30, so they could hit the picket line as early as July 1.

If they do strike, their lawyer says Matson ships won’t be able to leave port.

“It’s always very scary when this news breaks to know that will affect our business in a few weeks down the road,” Eight Point Distributors president and owner Michael Sakamoto said.

For Sakamoto, a work stoppage could put a freeze on his operations.

“We rely on Matson quite a bit, we bring in a lot of containers every week, during summer is our busiest season,” Sakamoto said.

A freeze in Matson’s operation would be a rocky road to go down because nearly all the ice cream Sakamoto carries is shipped in from the west coast, about 20,000 units a week.

“Dollars it can be hundreds of thousands of dollars every week. We would actually lose if they stop shipping,” Sakamoto said.

The attorney who represents the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific and the Marine Firemen’s Union says Matson wants workers to take a pay cut so they can buy two new ships, but the company has not given them a breakdown on how much of a cut.

This isn’t the first time negotiations have come down to the wire.

Four years ago, Matson workers went on strike, but 12 hours later, it ended with a tentative agreement.

KHON2 contacted Matson Navigation Company for comment and have not heard back.

In the meantime, the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific and the Marine Firemen’s Union plan to meet on Thursday.

We’ll have more information on this story as it becomes available.

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