West Coast labor dispute touches peninsula

Posted: Thursday, October 03, 2002

Kenai Peninsula commerce has been somewhat affected by the continuing dock worker labor dispute on the West Coast, but the effects so far have been isolated.

Grocers such as Safeway and Carrs continue to receive goods as planned because the company had a contingency plan in place before union workers were locked out by the Pacific Maritime Association.

Some local car dealers reported being in good shape in terms of inventory Wednesday, but one dealer said he is short 60 vehicles because of the labor dispute.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District was concerned about getting milk to school children, "but Mat-Maid (Dairy) was able to take care of us," said Todd Syverson, assistant superintendent for administrative services.

"We have a good six-week stock of other food items, so we're in good shape," said Syverson.

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have been locked out since Friday by PMA, the association that represents shipping lines and terminal operators from San Diego to Seattle.

Talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which recessed in rancor a day before, took a small step when a federal negotiator met with the union side Wednesday. But tempers flared at one California port where dockworkers blocked a ship from leaving port and only the intervention of riot police prevented violence.

The dispute -- largely over management's desire to modernize and the union's fear that could cost jobs -- has stopped all commercial shipping at 29 ports in California, Oregon and Washington, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

"We had a contingency plan in place to move our product by truck," said a spokesperson for Safeway-Carrs Wednesday.

"We have been able to get product to all our stores in Alaska including the Bush.

"Our customers should not see any shortages," Cherie Meyers said.

The grocer is able to deliver its products by truck instead of cargo ship, and is moving some products by air as well.

A sales manager for Great Bear Ford in Soldotna said the car dealer has not seen any changes in shipments yet and Duane Bannock, vice president of Kenai Chrysler, said the same.

"We had about a two-week supply of vehicles either in transit or in Anchorage," said Bannock.

"And, we've taken delivery of 50 to 60 cars in the last two weeks, so I was ahead of the game on deliveries," he said.

The sales manager for Hutchings GMC-Chevy in Soldotna was not as fortunate.

"I did not get about 60 units (that were on order)," said Ken Peterson. "I have about 200 in various order statuses -- some at the dock and some on the way to the dock."

He said the dealership's inventory is "pretty low" at what he considers the busiest time of the year. Between 270 and 300 vehicles are in stock.

Great Bear Ford sales manager Bill Lawrence said the dealership would be affected if the labor dispute lasts more than a week or two because the new model year is beginning and because "we have 41 vehicles on the docks, in transit or on a barge right now."

Five of those vehicles are slated for specific customers.

He said shipping cars to Alaska by truck is an option, but "shipping by truck would have to be worked out by the manufacturer."

Car makers are responsible for any damage to a vehicle that occurs before the vehicle is delivered to the dealer. If the dealer takes delivery ahead of time -- in Seattle, for instance -- the dealer would be liable for any damage.

Lawrence also said shipping by truck is considerably more expensive than by cargo ship. Truck transports can carry eight to 12 vehicles, while ships can carry more than 1,000.

''This is not only affecting West Coast ports, it's having a chain effect,'' Sunny Ho Lap-kee, executive director of the Hong Kong Shippers Council, told AP. ''This could result in a disaster. If there's no sign of a compromise it will affect the whole global economy.''

West Coast ports handled more than $320 billion worth of imports and exports in 2001. Stemming that flow of cargo has squeezed many industries, among them automakers that rely on just-in-time delivery of imported parts.

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