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Longshoremen reject contract deal in San Francisco

International Longshore and Warehouse Union members march in San Francisco on Wednesday. Union longshoremen working on the West Coast are working without a contract while trying to negotiate for better salaries and benefits.

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- An assembly of rank-and-file longshoremen unanimously rejected a contract proposal Wednesday from the shipping lines that employ them at West Coast ports.
Soon after, the delegates joined hundreds of other dock workers at a rally outside offices of the Pacific Maritime Association, whose member shipping lines expect to handle $300 billion worth of goods this year at 29 major Pacific ports.

A slowdown in work or a strike would affect Port of Olympia's marine terminal. About 30 workers are registered with the union to move cargo to and from ships, trucks and rail cars.

"We are here to negotiate a contract that has dignity to it," Jim Spinosa, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, told a crowd whose chants caught the curiosity of financial district workers lounging on their lunch breaks.

Association bargainers "need to sit down at the table and negotiate a contract in good faith," said Spinosa, who charged the White House and congressional Republicans with bullying the union to settle.

Meanwhile, in his office one floor above the rally, association chief executive officer Joseph Miniace said he had offered an equitable deal that keeps the 10,500 West Coast longshoremen among the nation's best-compensated blue-collar workers.

"I'm bitterly disappointed that they would reject our offer out of hand," Miniace said in an interview. "I had a gut feeling that they were going to take it."

"I don't think what they have done is in good faith at all," Miniace said.

Association representatives presented their proposal Sunday and union negotiators spent the last few days briefing about 80 delegates on its provisions. Negotiators had discounted the association's proposal almost immediately and the delegates' rejection was no surprise.

Delegates will spend the rest of the week composing a counter proposal, union spokesman Steve Stallone said. The two sides are not scheduled to meet until next week.

"If there is a constructive counter proposal, I would welcome it," Miniace said.

Delegates objected to the association's proposals on health care and how to preserve union jobs as shipping lines introduce new technology to make the docks more efficient -- but also some positions obsolete.

With Pacific Rim trade projected to double in the next decade, shipping lines complain West Coast ports won't be able to keep up unless they catch up with their more automated Asian peers.

Negotiations to renew the contract, which officially expired July 1, have become increasingly testy. Both sides have agreed to renew the contract on a day-to-day basis since then, and have hewn to promises to keep the docks running smoothly.

Miniace has said his proposal would give longshoremen a 17 percent increase in compensation, wages, health benefits and pensions, over five years. He said the union had asked for a 57 percent increase in those costs over three years. Overall, he said, the cost of the contract would rise about $200 million to $1.4 billion.

The union has said it can accept new technology to make the waterfront more efficient -- and can even accept job cuts among the ranks of clerks in the short term -- but wants to claim any new jobs created by new technology. Miniace has said longshoremen can have new jobs, though the union's definition of those jobs is broader than the association's.

2002 The Olympian

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