Hawaii shipping on the move; but West Coast docks slow

Hawaii shipping on the move; but West Coast docks slow

West Coast docks are mostly idle again, but Hawaii-bound containerships are still sailing this weekend, as labor and management exempt the islands from their fierce faceoff.

In response to what it says is a work slowdown by longshore workers, the Pacific Maritime Association effectively stopped vessel work by not asking for any crane operators this weekend.

On the docks, management requests labor and the union provides it. If either action does not occur, work doesn't get done.

The shutdown, not technically a lockout but similar to one, will extend to Monday, a holiday, when workers would be paid a 50% premium for being on the job.

PMA alleges that the International Longshore & Warehouse Union has been slowing work 20% to 50% over the past three months, and says it will no longer pay 50% extra for what "a paid strike."

Individual terminals this weekend may still do other work. They can't load or unload ships, but if a container is already sitting on the ground they can put it onto a trailer and have a truck driver haul it away.

As before both sides are making an exception for Hawaii and Alaska. a decision which has enabled Matson, Horizon Lines and Pasha Hawaii Transport to maintain something close to a normal schedule.

More shipments are on the way

The Matson ship Mokihana, sailing Sunday from Long Beach, arrives at Sand Island on Wednesday night, with cargo some of which would ordinarily have gone on the Maunawili.

The Maunawili is out of service for repairs after an anchor came loose in rough seas and slammed into the hull. Because repairs are taking longer than expected, Matson is activating a reserve ship, the Matsonia, which will sail from Oakland next Friday.

Horizon Lines has reported some limited delays apparently stemming from slow work at the terminals it uses. The Horizon Spirit, sailing Saturday from Los Angeles, will arrive at Sand Island Thursday, a day later than usual. The Horizon Enterprise, already en route from Oakland, will arrive at Sand Island Monday.

Containers transferred to Young Brothers for shipment to neighbor islands are sometimes delayed by late transpacific sailings, but the barge line is not otherwise affected. Its workers, also represented by the ILWU, are on a separate negotiating track.

Pacific Air Cargo and Aloha Air Cargo, which have regular freight flights from LAX to Honolulu, have both picked up a small amount of extra business from shippers of perishable goods testing alternative connections in case they need them later. Both companies are exploring contingencies for extra flights but have done only a limited amount of extra flights so far, since, so long as maritime shipping remains reasonably reliable, switching to the air is much more expensive.

Politics and the dock talks

The long labor travails on the docks - the last contract expired at the end of June - have had a political dimension, especially in the past month or so. And both sides are experiencing it.

President Obama has been under pressure from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, the National Association of Manufacturers and other groups to step in and pressure the two sides to bargain faster. These calls have typically focused on the reported work slowdown by labor.

At the same time, members of Congress and local officials in districts where longshore workers live have been issuing calls to the Pacific Maritime Association to stop making shipping delays worse with the recent weekend and holiday shutdowns.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, in San Francisco on Friday to tour an export company, said she did not think it was time for the federal government to step in to the dock talks.

In the Pacific Northwest, where ports handle a lot of agriculture exports, there have been reports of 20% declines in those exports or worse, attributed to labor strife on the docks. But the Chicago-based Journal of Commerce week this published an article questioning those statistics and suggesting the effects have been less dire than that.

Contract talks resumed on Friday.

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