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Shipping Group Sees Changing of the Guard

A leadership switch at the Pacific Maritime Assn. comes as carriers and the longshore union continue to spar over job-eliminating technologies.

March 19, 2004|Nancy Cleeland | Times Staff Writer

Joseph Miniace, a hard-nosed executive who led the world's largest shipping lines through a bitter confrontation with the longshore union in 2002, has resigned as head of the Pacific Maritime Assn.

Stepping into his shoes is just as tough a character.

"This is not a sign in any way, shape or form that the PMA is changing its path," said Miniace, 59, whose resignation took effect Wednesday and who was mulling over jobs at a university or in government service.

"Don't read anything into what I'm doing. It's just time now."

The new PMA leader is Jim McKenna, 49, a former vice president at Horizon Lines with nearly 30 years in the shipping business.

McKenna was hired last summer as the group's chief operating officer, and since then has taken on an expanding role, dealing with the San Francisco-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union to implement contract changes negotiated by Miniace more than a year ago.

As McKenna was being hired last summer, ILWU President James Spinosa ran unopposed for a second term and was soundly reelected.

The changing of the guard at the PMA, which negotiates labor contracts and handles payroll for terminal operators and shipping lines operating at all West Coast ports, comes as ramifications are still being felt from the acrimonious talks that led to a new contract in 2002.

It also comes as port traffic has increased, boosting union membership.

The labor-saving technology that PMA members fought for is being slowly incorporated at West Coast ports, but not without problems.

The ILWU has filed several grievances, complaining that PMA member companies have secretly tried to outsource union jobs and haven't complied with promises to bring some nonunion planning jobs under union jurisdiction.

Comments made by people from the union and the shippers' group indicate that the relationship between the two is marred by distrust on the union side and impatience on the part of employers.

Union officials who have dealt with McKenna said the new CEO is more direct than Miniace, whom they had often accused of distorting information, but no less resolute. "This is not a reconciliation," said Steve Stallone, chief spokesman for the ILWU. "We don't expect to see a change in policies, it's just that on a personal level he's more straightforward."

McKenna said as much himself.

"We have different personalities," he said when asked to compare himself with Miniace, a veteran human resources manager who had no experience in the shipping industry before joining the PMA.

"My operating philosophy is, I'm straightforward. I tell them what we're going to do and when we're going to do it. I don't want anyone to be confused with what we're trying to accomplish."

A fight over new technology was the centerpiece of contract negotiations that lasted six months and were punctuated by work slowdowns and a 10-day employer lockout.

The shippers contended that new labor-saving technology was essential for the ports to increase efficiencies and stay competitive with other ports around the world.

With container vessels backed up at ports from Long Beach to Seattle, and the threat of a federally imposed settlement hanging over negotiators, the two sides made deep concessions before finally agreeing on a six-year contract.

That contract, McKenna noted, expires in four years and three months.

Union members, who asked not to be named, speculated that some shipping lines were unhappy with terms of the agreement Miniace forged. Although shippers won the right to introduce gadgets such as scanners and remote cameras that could eliminate the work of several hundred highly paid marine clerks, the union maintained some control over their introduction.

The ILWU also exacted a high price for its cooperation, including a hefty increase in pension benefits and a continuation of fully paid health insurance.

Terminals have rolled out the new technology at a staggered pace, McKenna said. "Some employers have moved ahead very quickly. Some are still making decisions [on computer equipment and software]. I think in 2004 and 2005 we will see a lot more activity."

Under the contract, shipping lines must explain their plans for new technology to the union first, then can implement the change.

If the union suspects the technology is being used to improperly shift union work to nonunion contractors, the union can file a grievance and take the issue to arbitration -- but any decision would come after the fact.

The union already has filed several grievances on technology issues, spokesman Stallone said.

In one case, a terminal operator at the Port of Long Beach was accused of withholding information from union clerks that might have indicated the improper use of outside contractors, he said. An arbitrator ordered that hard copies of all the information be given to the union.

Another arbitration involved jobs in rail and yard planning, which were put under union jurisdiction in the contract.

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