Don't hoard toilet paper yet: maritime shipping to Hawaii continues to flow despite a significant worsening of the labor-management faceoff on the West Coast.
"We are working today in Long Beach and Seattle without any problems," says Jeff Hull, a spokesman for Matson Inc., the largest maritime shipping line to Hawaii. Matson, which has operatonal headquarters in Oakland, Calif., has its own terminal at Long Beach.
The Pacific Maritime Association, representing West Coast terminals, escalated its dispute with the International Longshore & Warehouse Union by announcing that weekend vessel loading and unloading would be "temporarily suspended."
"After three months of union slowdowns, it makes no sense to pay extra for less work," said PMA spokesman Wade Gates.
PMA exempted Jones Act carriers, however. And that exempts all the Hawaii shipping lines - Matson, Horizon and Pasha - as well as cruise ships.
What the order does affect is cargo from Asia waiting to be loaded onto trucks or railcars for shipment east across the U.S. mainland.
The ILWU said PMA was no longer requesting crane operators to unload the more than two dozen ships now anchored in Los Angeles-Long Beach harbor. Earlier, PMA accused ILWU of withholding crane operators when they were requested.
Terminals this weekend are still free to clear out the cargo already sitting in the yard, which means, if the two sides were actually to settle, they could more rapidly catch up and normalize operations.
PMA also said its order limiting work on the docks would expire at 8 a.m. Monday.
"Discontinuing calls for labor over the weekend is not going to make the situation at any facility better. It also is not going to improve the atmosphere at the negotiating table," said Rep. Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat whose district includes Long Beach, Calif.
Even now it is conceivable that the two sides are close to agreement. Management has already conceded two key points to the ILWU: a continuation of medical coverage that is entirely paid by employers at an average cost of $35,000 per worker, and expansion of union jurisdiction to again cover truck chassis repairs. This refers to the flatbed trailers on which containers are placed.
PMA says it is offering a five-year contract with 3% annual wages to workers whose base rate would then rise $5 an hour to more than $40 an hour, not counting premiums for special skills.
The ILWU represents longshore workers and clerks at all the major West Coast ports. A separate longshore union has jurisdiction on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. The ILWU also represents Hawaii longshore workers, who typically negotiate a similar contract after the West Coast has settled, and the union also represents hundreds of Hawaii hotel workers, mostly on neighbor islands.