Hawaii distributors make plans in light of possible dock shutdowns

Docks on the West Coast could see a shutdown in five to 10 days, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, and that could have an impact here in Hawaii.

As KHON2 first reported last month, a contract dispute with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union triggered a slowdown at 29 ports.

On Wednesday, the association presented what it calls an “all-in” offer, which includes:

  • A three-percent wage hike each year for five years,
  • The same health benefits (right now, workers don’t pay any premiums, co-pays or deductibles), and
  • An increase in the maximum ILWU pension to $88,800 per year.

Right now the average pay for a dock worker is $147,000 per year and management says it is willing to boost that to $160,000.

“Our members have shown tremendous restraint in the face of ILWU slowdowns that have cut productivity by as much as 30, 40, even 50 percent,” said PMA president Jim McKenna. “This offer puts us all-in as we seek to wrap up these contract talks and return our ports to normal operations.”

Both PMA and ILWU say contract talks are continuing with the help of a federal mediator, but PMA says if there is no settlement soon, it has no choice but to lock out the longshoremen.

In Hawaii, those responsible for keeping store shelves stocked are calm, but nervous.

Since October, containers shipped to Hawaii have experienced delays. Management blamed that on ILWU worker slowdowns, triggering congestion at the docks and idling ships.

“These slowdowns are having the same result as a worker strike,” McKenna said, “except that workers are still getting a paycheck.”

McKenna went on to say, “The slowdowns need to stop. The terminals cannot withstand anymore. We are truly close to gridlock.”

Among the members of the PMA are Hawaii’s key shipping companies, Matson Navigation and Horizon Lines.

The ILWU in Hawaii told KHON2 that the union continues to bargain in good faith.

From San Francisco, ILWU president Robert McElrath said in a statement that “closing the ports at this point would be reckless and irresponsible.”

In Hawaii, Armstrong Produce, which lists the military commissaries as the company’s top customer, is ramping up efforts to keep the lifeline going for the islands.

“We will have to do what we’ve been trying to do the last three months,” said Tish Uyehara, Armstrong’s marketing director. “Trying to secure as much air cargo capacity as we can.”

That would be difficult to do, since more than 90 percent of the goods delivered to Hawaii come by ship. Many say air cargo simply cannot make up the huge loss in shipping capacity.

“It would be really tough to make up all that capacity,” said Fred Spencer, president, Air Cargo Association of Hawaii. “Especially with the perishables–the produce, fruits and vegetables that do come in daily.”

The Air Cargo Association counts 60 members including airlines, truckers and freight-forwarders.

“At least Pacific Air Cargo, they’re an all-cargo carrier that does have access possibly to additional aircraft so they could help that way,” Spencer added.

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