Rough waters ahead for Island shipping?

Donald Marcus
Donald Marcus
Charles Khim
Charles Khim
Kim Ibara
Kim Ibara

By Paul Drewes - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Another labor contract is coming to an end. And if it expires, shipping could be affected across the state.

This time, the contract concerns aren't coming from dock workers but instead the masters, mates and pilots who steer the ships.

While busy workers on the docks are very visible reminders of the amount of goods shipped into Hawaii. Often overlooked are the officers of the Matson ships that sail between Hawaii and the Mainland.

"We're the officers that navigate the vessels, and make sure that federal and international regulations are complied with. And make sure our oceans are safely travelled," said Donald Marcus, with the Masters, Mates and Pilots Union.

But many of the union workers say they are also being overlooked by the company they've worked for - over the past six years.

In 2002, the union agreed to wage concessions for officers and mates on new Matson ships, with the understanding pay would eventually be restored. But ship staff say it hasn't.

"If you are an officer on an old ship, you get paid the 1st class rate. But if you are doing the same job on the new ship, you are getting the second class rate," said Charles Khim, the attorney for the Union.

That can mean a difference in pay by up to 35%. And because an agreement on equal pay hasn't been reached a day before their contract ends, union members are taking their message to the streets.

They let people know a strike could be on the horizon.

"A strike is a definite possibility at this time and only the people of Hawaii will be hurt by a strike," said Khim.

The possibility of a shipping strike stopped some in their tracks.

"Here in Hawaii everything is shipped to us by Matson and other companies, so it is a concern for all of us," said Kim Ibara, of Honolulu.

For the union members, there is also concern over the safety of ships in our waters. If Matson brings in other, less experienced crews to replace striking workers.

"We intend to keep our standards and positions but the current administration of Matson is going to make us fight for them and fight we will," added Marcus.

In response to the union's action, Matson released a statement saying "They continue to negotiate in good faith with the various unions...And they feel there is still sufficient time remaining to work out an agreement."

Both side are expected to be back at the negotiating table Thursday morning, before the labor contract ends Thursday night at 9pm Hawaii time.