Butting Heads: Miniace Takes Harder Line for Shippers

By DAVID GREENBERG
Staff Reporter

After witnessing what he described as union-staged work slowdowns during the 1996 and 1999 contract talks where productivity fell 20 percent to 50 percent per port Pacific Maritime Association President Joseph Miniace took a hard-line stance this year that the ship companies he represents have been looking for.

He vowed to shut down the ports if any slowdowns occurred.

Although the union has denied using those tactics in previous years, PMA officials said that cargo has been moving steadily through the West Coast ports, despite the fact that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has been without a contract since July 1.

Miniace, 55, has proven no pushover.

He was hired in 1996 as president and chief executive of the PMA, which wanted to leverage his three decades of labor relations experience to counter what many considered a pattern of conceding too much during contract talks just to avoid a strike.

His focus has been a three-year campaign to implement computerized work assignment and container trafficking systems changes he vows will make West Coast ports more efficient but which the union fears will eliminate future jobs.

"From an industry standpoint, he is a tough negotiator, but he is honest and fair," said John McLaurin, president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, a trade group representing shipping operations in the maritime industry. "Joe doesn't hide where he's coming from. The union may not agree with his positions but I do think they have a great deal of respect for him. If you have respect, you're able to maintain the dialogue and continue to discuss the issues."

Miniace's experience with labor relations dates back to 1967, when he was a clerk in the personnel office at Ford Motor Co.'s Kansas City plant. He became labor relations manager before being promoted to the same position at the larger truck plant in Louisville, Ky., where for the next four years he bargained with a 5,200-employee union.

From 1981 through 1991, he was group director of human resources for Ryder System Inc., where he negotiated contracts with 15,000 union and non-union employees.

Miniace came to the PMA after five years as vice president of administration and human resources, as well as an adjunct professor at New York University, where his responsibilities included labor relations for the NYU Medical Center.

Hired during the 1996 contract talks, Miniace was an observer while his predecessor, William Coday, who had been the PMA's president since 1981, negotiated the contract.

The PMA board has undergone a facelift since 1999, which has empowered Miniace to take a zero-tolerance stance against work slowdowns and attempts to keep technology out of the ports.

"He was brought in by the PMA to make changes to get a better handle on the contract and the technology that the terminal operations need," said Robin Lanier, executive director of the West Coast Waterfront Coalition, a Washington retailers trade group. "His experience in 1999 was a chastening one and he wasn't going to allow it to happen again. He and his organization are better prepared this time."

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