Jan. 22, 2003, 11:52PM

New contract officially ends port strike

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- The labor dispute that shuttered West Coast ports for 10 days last fall and hamstrung Pacific trade formally ended Wednesday when dockworkers and shipping companies overwhelmingly approved a new six-year contract.

Nearly 90 percent of International Longshore and Warehouse Union members who voted approved of the multibillion-dollar deal, which should bring labor peace to 29 major ports that badly need to modernize -- and should be able to do so under the pact.

More than 7,400 members voted for the deal, while nearly 900 voted against it, the largest margin of victory for any longshoremen's contract, according to union officials. Voter turnout was 85 percent.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines and terminal operators, also said its member companies had "overwhelmingly" ratified the deal.

The deal includes no-cost health insurance and a 60 percent increase in pensions. By 2008, a union member will receive an annual pension of $1,800 multiplied by the number of years worked -- a 30-year veteran, for example, would get $54,000 per year in retirement.

Salaries would increase 12 percent by the end of the six-year contract, giving the average longshoreman around $90,000 in annual pay.

In exchange, union members would accept a new wave of computer technology that would speed the flow of goods through already congested ports. Increased efficiency would hit the work force, but not too hard. The contract would guarantee that all current union members keep their jobs, but as they retire, about 400 positions could be lost.



  Jan. 24, 2003, 10:41PM

Dealership's technicians reject union


Repair technicians at Mike Calvert Toyota decided against joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in a 15-to-14 vote.

The election was held Oct. 9, but the votes weren't counted until this week because the National Labor Relations Board impounded the ballots.

The counting was held up because Mike Calvert Toyota appealed the scope of the bargaining group to the agency.

The auto dealership had contended that the technicians at Davis Chevrolet next door should be included in the work group, but last week the NLRB ruled that since the employees don't work together, they should remain separate.

The union win, however, was short-lived.

"The employer is very pleased that the employees have determined to work together to solve any problems that they may have rather than resorting to an outsider," said Robert J. Bekken, an employment lawyer representing Mike Calvert Toyota.

Machinists district organizer Mark Hammond said the outcome surprised him. He said that one of the employees who was leading the union drive was terminated before the votes were cast and that had a chilling effect on the other employees. The terminated employee has since been rehired, Hammond said.

Hammond has been organizing other repair shops around Houston and vows to continue despite this week's loss.


 Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

  Jan. 27, 2003, 11:41PM

Job losses ease, yet cutbacks still being felt


Houston's unemployment picture is looking up a bit, yet the city's employers continue to shed jobs as companies retrench.

CenterPoint Energy, SBC Communications, Clarke American Checks and Kmart announced details of a new round of layoffs Monday, just a few days after the Texas Workforce Commission reported unemployment in December was down to 5.4 percent from 5.7 percent in the previous month.

CenterPoint Energy laid off 87 linemen and truck drivers on Monday and expects to eliminate 108 more workers in the next two months.

The cuts represent 6 percent of the company's electrical distribution jobs.

The utility has made substantial improvements in its transmission system so it doesn't need as many linemen, mechanics and drivers, said CenterPoint Energy spokeswoman Leticia Lowe.

The slowdown in road construction also means the utility doesn't have to move as many utility lines as it expected, she said.

But Rick Childers, business representative for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 66, questioned whether the utility can eliminate so many linemen and still keep up with the workload that has historically required a lot of overtime.

Childers pointed out that CenterPoint's cutback is similar to its decision earlier this year to reduce its tree-trimming budget to save money.

"They found that trees continue to grow while they didn't have enough people to trim them," he said, predicting a similar outcome when the next rainstorm comes.

SBC on June 7 is also moving some of its jobs in Houston to Dallas, affecting as many as 99 workers.

However, not all 99 are expected to join the rolls of the unemployed.

Workers may follow their jobs to Dallas or apply for other jobs inside SBC, according to a notice the company sent to the Texas Workforce Commission.

However, as part of a wider consolidation effort of its network service centers, the company is also moving some jobs to Houston, said an SBC spokesman, who expects a net gain here of about 50 positions.

Clarke American Checks is permanently closing its check manufacturing plant in Houston and laying off its 104 employees beginning March 29. Employees can relocate to other plants.

The San Antonio based-company will transfer its production to larger and more efficient check-making locations, said a company spokesman. It will continue to keep open its two plants in San Antonio and its plant in Dallas.

And Kmart, which announced earlier this month that it would shutter all of its stores in the Houston area, informed the commission that it would eliminate about 2,100 local jobs beginning March 21.


 Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle