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ILWU Walks, Threatens Work Actions; Refuses to Consider Critical Technology to Modernize Ports, Says Pacific Maritime Association.

Business & News Editors/Labor Writers


The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), unwilling to budge on critical issues of port modernization and technology, walked out of contract talks today even though the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) reached an agreement in principle on the health benefits package.

"We reached an agreement in principle on health benefits, but the Union continues to refuse to accept critically needed technology to modernize the ports. The Union claims to support technology, but in fact, is hostile to the very concept of bringing our ports into the 21st century," said PMA president and CEO Joe Miniace.

The ILWU declared that it would also refuse to agree to daily extensions of the current contract, thereby creating the opportunity to stage work slowdowns that could damage the U.S. economy. The two sides had agreed to daily contract extensions since the current contract expired on July 1, 2002. Work slowdowns are a violation of the contract, but with no extension in place, the Union now has license to conduct these strike-related work actions, says the PMA.

"By walking away from the talks and refusing to agree to a contract extension, the Union just fired the first shot," Miniace said. "They opened the door to work slowdowns, which we have said time and again will not be tolerated." In walking out, ILWU President Jim Spinosa declared that the Union would not extend the contract past 5 p.m. today, and threatened that the union "is going to do what it has to do."

During previous negotiations, the Union has slowed down its productivity to levels that are the equivalent to a strike. "Work slowdowns are how his Union stages strikes," Miniace said. "I have said before that I will not tolerate a slowdown-strike, and that still stands. If the Union wants to play games with the U.S. economy, they will have to do it from outside the terminal gates."

For three years, Miniace has indicated that this current round of contract talks needed to include a pact on port modernization and technology, which is why the PMA called for an early start to negotiations nearly two years ago to work through the difficult issues of technology implementation.

Modernization is critical to relieving mounting congestion problems that threaten to thwart the movement of cargo. "These congestion problems are acute, and pose a real threat to an already shaky economy. Technology implementation is also a cornerstone of the federal government's plans to enhance security at our nation's ports," Miniace said.

The PMA's offer would make the members of the ILWU among the highest paid union workers in America. Under that proposal, average salaries for full-time longshoremen and marine clerks would grow to $114,500 and $137,500, respectively. On top of wage increases, the benefits package alone would increase from $42,000 per employee to more than $59,000 in the fifth year of the contract.

The PMA package represents a 17 percent increase over five years. At one point in the negotiations last month, the ILWU came in with a 57 percent package over three years. After a five-week, ILWU-imposed hiatus in the talks, the Union returned last week with a regressive package that would have increased the costs by 110 percent over three years, the PMA claims. "By anyone's standards, that's not negotiating," Miniace said.

"The PMA proposal provides job guarantees to any registered member of the ILWU who will be impacted by technology. The PMA is paying a high price for technology, but the Union has indicated no interest or willingness to engage in a serious discussion on how to modernize the ports," Miniace said.

The ILWU refused to set a new meeting date for the talks. There are two shifts tonight after the contract expires. Following the observance of the Labor Day holiday, the next work shift is set to begin on Tuesday morning at 7 a.m.
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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