The Pacific Maritime Association has filed an unfair labor practices grievance against local dockworkers for their refusal to complete implementation of an automated dispatch system.
The PMA, which represents major shipping lines, charged that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13, which represents 6,000 dockworkers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, refused to implement the third and final phase of the system designed to enhance job efficiency.
The equipment is designed to expediently issue dock assignments for longshoremen, notifying them what time and place they are to work that day.
Under the decades-old current system, workers' assignments are written out by hand on a chalkboard at the dispatch hall. The time-consuming process often causes workers to arrive an hour or more late to the terminals.
Although the union voted down implementation by a 2-to-1 margin in 1999, arbitrator John Pandora sided with the PMA's appeal of the vote last summer and ordered the system installed.
"The union is not following through with the arbitrator's decision," said PMA spokeswoman Abbie Granger, on why the grievance was filed. "Clearly it would improve efficiency and get more people to work on time."
Local 13 claims that it can't complete installation of the system until certain issues are resolved, such as how many electronic screens and dispatch windows would be open daily.
But George Cunningham, an industry analyst, called the union's stance a smokescreen to get back at the PMA for rejecting David Arian, a former Local 13 and ILWU president, as the new arbitrator to replace Pandora, who died a few months ago.
"(Arian) was a very militant union official," said Cunningham. "The employers (represented by PMA) don't have a level of comfort with Arian as an arbitrator helping to settle disputes between the two sides."
Arbitrators are called to the waterfront to settle labor disputes that result in a work stoppage. Because both sides must agree on who the arbitrator will be, decisions by arbitrators are nearly always abided by the entity he rules against.
No date for the grievance hearing has been set.
Local 13 President Ramon Ponce de Leon and Secretary-Treasurer George Lujan did not return repeated calls made to their office.
The PMA has yet to nominate its choice for Pandora's replacement.
Technological advances such as the automated system are expected to emerge as a central bargaining issue in the next contract negotiations, which PMA President Joe Miniace wants to initiate as soon as possible, even through the union's current three-year contract doesn't expire until July 1, 2002. Union members fear that technological advances might ultimately reduce the number of future job openings.
Cunningham said the current automated-system dispute is unlikely to affect how soon contract negotiations begin because the union does not want to enter into early negotiations anyway.
Delaying talks would enhance the union's bargaining position, he said.
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