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West Coast port trouble raises Hawaii shipping concerns

Dockworker labor difficulties flared up over the past few days at West Coast ports, but after largely settling down Monday, no major disruptions are expected for Hawaii ocean cargo deliveries.

The only impact for the two biggest ocean cargo carriers serving Hawaii from the mainland appears to be a one-day delay to Thursday for a Matson ship previously scheduled to arrive in Honolulu on Wednesday.

Keoni Wagner, a spokesperson for Matson Inc., said port operations in Long Beach, Calif., and Tacoma, Wash., returned to normal Monday after disruptions over the weekend, and that there was still some slowdown of work in Oakland, Calif., but not to a degree where any other Matson ship schedules are negatively affected.

At Pasha Hawaii the Horizon Enterprise containership left Long Beach on Saturday with an expected Honolulu arrival today, and the next West Coast port call for the company is Wednesday in Oakland.

“We’re doing OK right now,” said Emily Sinclair, a Pasha spokesperson. “The ships are coming in.”

Both Matson and Pasha are monitoring the labor situation for potential continued disruptions.

Work slowdowns at the West Coast ports began Friday and followed cargo handling disruptions during two days in April that delayed cargo loading for a pair of Hawaii-bound Matson and Pasha ships but resulted in no major delays.

Yet even relatively small disruptions at West Coast ports often can be of large concern for local consumers and business operators, given how reliant residents and companies in Hawaii are on shipping.

State officials estimate that 80% of all goods consumed in the state are imported, with 98% of that coming by ship.

“These ships are truly Hawaii’s lifeline,” Chad Buck, founder and CEO of Hawaii Foodservice Alliance LLC, the largest perishable-food distributor in the state, said Saturday in an email.

The recently recurring port labor trouble stems from negotiations over a labor contract covering 29 West Coast ports since a prior contract with members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13 expired July 1.

The Pacific Maritime Association, an organization representing employers in the labor negotiations with the ILWU, announced Friday that “concerted and disruptive work actions” staged by the ILWU effectively shut down some marine terminal operations at the neighboring Los Angeles and Long Beach ports.

PMA also said the union staged similar work actions that shut down or severely affected terminal operations at four other ports: Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle and Hue­neme, Calif.

On Monday, PMA said the work slowdowns initially continued, and included union leaders refusing to dispatch workers to marine terminals and making unfounded health and safety claims. Later on Monday much of the work disruption had ended.

An ILWU representative declined comment Monday, but on Friday the union issued a statement saying that companies represented by PMA made historic profits of $510 billion during the pandemic while ILWU member wages and benefits did not increase in proportion to revenues for the maritime companies.

“We aren’t going to settle for an economic package that doesn’t recognize the heroic efforts and personal sacrifices of the ILWU workforce that lifted the shipping industry to record profits,” ILWU President Willie Adams said in the statement.

PMA represents over 70 multinational ocean carriers and maritime companies, according to the union, which also said profits for some of the companies jumped nearly 1,000% and have remained far in excess of pre-pandemic levels even with shipping volumes returning to normal this year.

“The ILWU is committed to bargaining a contract that is fair and equitable, including wages and benefits that reflect the dedication of the ILWU workforce and its contributions to the shipping industry’s success,” the union said in its Friday statement.

PMA said the work disruptions are causing retailers, manufacturers and other shippers to avoid sending cargo to West Coast ports in favor of ports on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Such diversion, the organization said, is hurting thousands of workers linked to port operations, including truck drivers and warehouse workers.

“Too much is at stake for this harmful disruption to continue,” PMA said in its statement.

Beyond the ports, other industries are concerned as well. On Monday the National Retail Federation reiterated a plea it made in March for the administration of President Joe Biden to help the union and employer group reach terms on a new contract.

“The United States ports, particularly those on the West Coast, play a critical role in the vitality of the American economy,” David French, the federation’s senior vice president of government relations, said in the statement. “Thousands of retailers and other businesses depend on smooth and efficient operations at the ports to deliver goods to consumers every day.”


Hawaii has long had brushes with shipping disruptions and the occasional crippling shutdown.

>> In 2017 a strike by Matson employees was a 50-50 proposition, according to the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific and another union, which agreed to a new contract about six hours before a contract expiration to avert a strike.

>> In 2012, union members picketing the Port of Oakland in California stopped work for a day and delayed one Matson ship.

>> In 2002, PMA shut down all 29 West Coast ports for 10 days over a labor dispute.

>> In 1999, Hawaii stevedores engaged in a work slowdown that was resolved after a new labor contract agreement.

>> In 1997 the ILWU staged a one-day dockside work stoppage.

>> In 1971 a West Coast dockworkers strike crippled Hawaii shipping for more than 100 days.

>> In 1961 a national shipping strike halted by the federal government after 17 days damaged Hawaii’s economy.

>> In 1949 the ILWU in Hawaii carried out a six-month strike that created food shortages and business bankruptcies across the state.

Source: Star Advertiser