Striking tugboat operators, barge company ready to resume talks

Saturday, July 3rd 2004, 10:04 am
By: News On 6

HONOLULU (AP) _ Striking tugboat workers and the company responsible for much of Hawaii's interisland barge traffic are at odds over only one issue _ accrued time off.

Negotiators representing the Inlandboatman's Union of the Pacific and Young Brothers Ltd.-Hawaiian Tug & Barge are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Saturday morning. The 60 operators walked off the job Thursday after their three-year contract expired midnight Wednesday.

The union's regional director, Jonathan Lono Kane, has said the issue of time off is a matter of safety because of the long hours worked by tug operators in Hawaii's extremely busy harbors.

Young Brothers issued a statement Friday accusing the workers of raising false concerns about safety.

Company President Glenn Hong described what the workers are currently receiving as ``very generous'' and said Young Brothers needed to keep ``overall compensation realistic'' to keep rates affordable for consumers.

There was no immediate union response to Hong's statement.

Gov. Linda Lingle said Friday afternoon that the state was in touch with both sides.

``Potentially, we would get involved if the health and safety of people on the neighbor islands was jeopardized by a strike for a long period of time,'' Lingle said. ``Hopefully, they'll be able to work it out.''

Young Brothers, which ships everything from food to cars and appliances among Hawaii's six main islands, has canceled all sailings until further notice. Though the company is keeping its ports open to deliver cargo to customers, no cargo is being accepted for shipping.

That was bad news for Richard Ha, owner of Keaau Banana Plantation Inc. on the Big Island, who said he was getting ready to ship four containers of bananas worth an estimated $30,000 when he learned of the walkout.

``If the strike goes too long, they'll all be destroyed,'' Ha told the Hawaii Tribune Herald.

The strike came as grocers were preparing for heavy sales during the July Fourth holiday weekend.

In Lanai City, Richard's country store was starting to see some empty shelves.

``We don't have any limits to put on, we don't have anything,'' said store owner Wally Tamashiro. ``Some mothers have been asking if we're going to fly milk in. We'll wait until next week.''

Don Washburn, manager of Sack 'n Save Foods store in Puainako on the Big Island, said the strike's effects won't be that bad so long as the store can get through Tuesday.

``It will gradually get worse and worse,'' he told the newspaper.

Past shipping strikes have triggered a run on food, but that panic buying has not yet happened, Washburn said.

Businesses that needed to ship goods interisland were scrambling to make other arrangements, either by air or a smaller company. There are at least four other tug-barge companies in Hawaii.