Hawaii indirectly affected by continued suspensions at West Coast ports

Local News

The Pacific Maritime Association announced Wednesday that members will temporarily suspend premium-pay weekend and holiday vessel operations on four upcoming dates in light of what it calls “ongoing and costly” slowdowns.

The four dates are Thursday, 2/12 (Lincoln’s Birthday); Saturday, 2/14; Sunday, 2/15; and Monday, 2/16 (Washington’s Birthday).

Talks resumed Wednesday, with a federal mediator, in an ongoing labor dispute between the association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The contract covering 29 docks from Seattle to San Diego expired last July.

But management says it will still impose a temporary suspension on the loading and unloading of ships.

PMA said in a statement that “weekend and holiday pay rates command a premium of at least 50 percent of the basic longshore wage rate. As a result, working hours on those days would be paid at between $54 and $75 per hour for longshore workers and clerks, and between $77 and $92 per hour for foremen. PMA members have concluded that they will not conduct vessel operations on those dates, paying full shifts of ILWU workers such high rates for severely diminished productivity while the backlog of cargo at West Coast ports grows.”

Yard, gate and rail operations will continue at terminal operators’ discretion. In Southern California, terminal operators will expand daytime vessel operations on non-holiday weekdays.

“Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates. “The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet, and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock. What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.”

For its part, the ILWU fired back with a statement from its president to members. “The PMA is trying to divide us with using lies and tactics to turn the public against us, the locals against the negotiating committee, and rank-and-file against each other,” said Robert McEllrath, ILWU president. “This is part of their tactic to divide us. Nobody divides the ILWU. Nobody.”

Matson Navigation says its ships will arrive as scheduled in Hawaii on Saturday (Manoa), next Wednesday (Mokihana) and next Friday (Maunawili–though it suffered structural damage during a Pacific storm on its way back to the mainland).

Even though the dispute is not supposed to interfere with domestic carriers, Matson, as well as PMA, have admitted that the congestion at West Coast docks has triggered a domino effect leading to the delay of some container shipments to Hawaii.

Mid-America Overseas, a freight forwarding service located at the Foreign Trade Zone off Ala Moana Boulevard, says the problem largely centers on goods made in Asia. Many shipments of those products first sail to the U.S. West Coast to distribution centers, then make their way to Honolulu.

“If there are customers in Hawaii getting freight, say, from distribution centers that are on the West Coast, and that freight then comes to Hawaii, those shipments are not coming through. The delays are two, three, four weeks out,” said Todd Hembry, regional manager for Mid-America Overseas in Hawaii. “That’s probably the most tangible impact that you are seeing.”

R. Weinstein, a company in Kakaako that distributes pharmaceuticals and medical products to private practice doctors and clinics throughout the state has seen delays in container shipments for a day or two.

The company says it cannot afford to shift all its cargo to air shipments if the labor dispute breaks down into an actual drawn-out strike at the docks.

Company president Richard Weinstein said much of his supplies “has to come by boat, including disinfectant solutions, gloves and paper for examination tables. That and a hundred other items, out of a thousand that we use.”

Weinstein said he is okay for now, since he did receive a container shipment of supplies last Saturday.

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