Day-to-day contract extensions keep ports running

| 7/3/2002

Just before the longshoremen's contract expired at 5 p.m. Monday, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association agreed to extend the contract on a day-to-day basis as contract negotiations continue in a scheduled Tuesday meeting.

PMA President and CEO Joseph Miniace pledged Monday afternoon to stay at the bargaining table for as long as it takes to reach agreement with the ILWU on a new coastwide contract, and asked the union to do the same. His pledge is consistent with calls from federal and local elected officials to resolve the outstanding issues at the table and to keep the ports running smoothly.

Miniace urged the ILWU not to stage work slowdowns like those employed during the contract negotiations in 1996 and 1999. "Slowdowns severely disrupt the transportation system," he said.

"Let me be very clear on this issue," Miniace stated. "If the union strikes with pay by staging slowdowns at the terminals, the PMA will be forced to consider a defensive shutdown. The PMA will not engage in an offensive lockout of the ILWU. We want to be at the table negotiating an agreement without any disruption. Reaching a contract agreement and keeping our ports open is crucial to the nation's economy and national security.

"We have an enormous responsibility to negotiate an agreement without any work interruption on the waterfront," Miniace said. "The PMA is committed to working through and resolving the issues that remain on the table either by today's deadline or beyond it."

The contract negotiations focus has been on wage and benefit packages, as well as technology. The ILWU has rejected PMA's proposal at Saturday's meeting and offered its own alternative proposal at Monday's meeting.

The PMA called its wage and benefits package "one of the finest in the country" but has asked for several administrative controls into the new plan. The PMA says employers want to have some administrative controls on the current "blank check" health program. In a statement to clarify what it calls misconceptions about its benefits proposal, the PMA spells out improvements to the current plan but simply alludes to these "administrative controls" without giving any specifics.

Technology and modernization proposals also were part of the comprehensive package presented to the union Saturday. The PMA promised no current registered workers would lose jobs as technology is implemented and says modernization will enable the longshore industry to grow, just as it did after containerization was introduced in the 1960s.

"The West Coast ports are falling behind the rest of the world, and cannot handle future growth without introducing technology and modernizing workplace practices to expand our country's international trade capacity," Miniace said.

-- Rene Tankersley, features editor