Mirroring the changing face of the ocean freight industry, the Pacific Maritime Association has announced its first major reorganization in more than 50 years. The association hopes that the new structure will give it a more unified voice in its dealings with the labor unions.

Under the organization, the PMA's board of directors will include a higher ratio of representatives of international ocean carriers.

"The industry has changed," said Joseph Miniace, the PMA's president and chief executive. "The new format reflects the industry as it is today."

The San Francisco-based PMA negotiates and administers labor contracts on behalf of the waterfront employers on the West Coast. Years of consolidation among the major freight carriers that service the trade between Asia and the West Coast ports, however, have meant that only a very small number of these carriers are still headquartered in this country.

Most recently, American President Lines Ltd. and Sea-Land Service Inc. were acquired by or merged with overseas-based companies, leaving but two U.S. flag-carrying operators in the trans-Pacific trade.

Until now, though, the board of the PMA had six representatives of U.S.-based shipping lines, out of a total of 15 directors, and only five representing foreign-flag carrying ones.

Under the new organization, the board is reduced to only 10 directors, six representing international shipping lines, two from domestic lines, and two representing independent stevedoring companies.

"We did not have enough U.S.-based members to fill the six slots on the board," said Miniace. "So, we ended up having two representatives of the same companies sitting on the board."

In the old system, San Francisco-based Matson Navigation Co. Inc. certainly no minor player in international freight but not the biggest one either had two seats on the board while Taiwan-based Evergreen America Corp. one of the biggest container carriers on the West Coast was not represented on the board at all.

In effect this meant that many of the PMA's most important members were not directly involved in the contract negotiations with the powerful International Longshore and Warehouse Union. These negotiations have in recent years centered around the carriers' and terminal operators' need for implementing new technology in the ports and the union's reluctance, if not refusal, to go along with this.

"Now at least they can be involved and have up-close experience with these negotiations," said David Adam, executive vice president with Marine Terminals Corp. and an alternate member of the PMA's board of directors. "Before, there might be complaints and I can't tell you to what extent these were tongue-in-cheek or real about the contracts that we negotiated. Now they can tell their headquarters in Asia that they have been part of the process."

Adam does not believe that the new board will be any more or less aggressive or militant than the previous one, but he believes that they will be more unified around the issue of introducing new technology. Installing waterfront automation has become increasingly important as the volume of the containers passing through the ports continues to grow rapidly.

"They have coalesced as a group around this technology thing," said Adam. "There is a strong desire to get this over the hump."

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