Contract negotiations stall between Matson and unionized workers

 UPDATED 7:48 PM HST Jun 20, 2013
Matson ship carrying crates in Honolulu Harbor
HONOLULU -

Two unions are threatening to go on strike as negotiations with Matson Navigation Company, Inc. reach a stalemate.

According to local attorney Charles Khim, the Sailors Union of the Pacific and the Marine Firemen's Union will walk off the job at the end of the month if an agreement on a new contract can't be reached. SUP represents about 1,000 workers, while MFU has roughly 600 members.

Khim says the main issue in the stalled contract negotiations is a demand by Matson that union members give wage kickbacks toward the purchase of new ships.

"We're reluctantly informing the public of this because there are only 10 days left before the contracts expire, and we are doing this in order to truthfully advise the public that there may very well be a shipping strike," Khim said Thursday at a news conference.

In its annual report, Matson says it's continuing to pursue the purchase of two new cargo ships, but union leaders balk at the thought of having members foot some of the bill. Senior workers at both unions earn about $5,200 a month at Matson, with entry level employees taking home about $3,000 monthly.

"What they want is a piece of flesh out of us to pay for these ships, which is wrong," said Gunnar Lundeberg, SUP's president and secretary-treasurer.

Khim says if the unions go on strike, it could disrupt Matson's operations, which is responsible for about 70 percent of all food and goods shipped to Hawaii.

"Hawaii would be in real trouble if the container ships stopped coming to Hawaii to bring food and goods and services," he said.

In a statement released Thursday, Matson said it does not discuss contract issues that are currently under review, and that unions often use the threat of a strike as part of the negotiating process.

"Matson feels that there is sufficient time remaining to work out agreements," the statement added.  "We do not anticipate any disruption to our service."  

Another round of talks between the two unions and Matson officials are scheduled in San Francisco on Tuesday to discuss monetary issues.

The Seafarers International Union is also negotiating new terms with Matson, but a union representative did not return a phone call Thursday from KITV4 seeking comment. 

The company says it netted $45.9 million in profits last year, but also carries $319.1 million in debt.

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