Not only no, but hell no: port workers call for 'hard bargaining'

| 8/13/2002

The International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), said no to government interference in the union's labor negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). After the Bush administration made known its intentions to block work slowdown or strike to keep cargo moving through the West Coast ports, the ILWU called rallies in Los Angeles, Oakland, CA, Seattle and Tacoma, WA.

"The Bush administration and the employers are trying to exploit concerns about national security and a fragile economy," said rally promotional flyers. "They want to use these concerns as an excuse to attach one of the nation's strongest unions."

Another flyer states: "Claiming this is an issue of 'Homeland Security,' Tom Ridge has threatened government intervention if the dockworkers decide to strike. Don't let the administration turn its 'endless war' against the workers! Real national security is security of our jobs and healthcare, not attacks on immigrant and workers' rights."

Meanwhile, PMA President Joseph Miniace has suggested the use of a third-party mediator if the two sides cannot quickly bridge their differences in the critical West Coast waterfront labor negotiations.

"After two months at the table, the union rejected the PMA offer, claiming we were far apart. They then asked for a three-week break," Miniace said. "If the union is not prepared to return to the table with a serious offer [Aug. 13], I believe third-party mediation is the only solution."

Miniace pointed out the PMA has made "a generous offer, providing a 17 percent increase in overall compensation, enhancing benefits and providing job guarantees."

"The time has come for one of two options: hard bargaining or mediation. One way or the other, we must work to resolve our differences as quickly as possible," Miniace said.

Miniace did not name a specific mediator, but rather suggested the parties jointly agree to one. He indicated he was open to the union's ideas, and wanted simply to find an experienced individual who could help the parties reach agreement.

Miniace's request followed a series of communications with the union prior to this round of negotiations, in which he said the issues to be addressed in the talks were of such great significance he believed it would be a good idea to start negotiations early, or to consider the help of a third party. The union rejected those suggestions.

Labor talks began May 13, for a coast-wide contract covering about 10,500 members of the ILWU. Since that time, the two parties have met 28 times for a total of 53.5 hours. On July 25, the union informed PMA it would not be available to meet until Aug. 13.

The latest PMA offer increases wages, provides for 100-percent employer-paid healthcare, guarantees jobs for all current ILWU members and enhances pension benefits.

"With the economy in questionable shape, and with nearly 4 million American jobs dependent on West Coast trade, it is essential we reach agreement without delay," Miniace said. "I urge the union leadership to join me in resolving our differences."
-- Rene Tankersley