Hotel reps not too concerned

Kaua’i stores have managed to stockpile supplies of nonperishable items like rice, toilet paper and Spam.

But a prolonged West Coast dock-workers’ strike or lockout will quickly mean shortages, especially of fresh fruits, meats and other perishable products, retailers said.

“We won’t have products to sell” if the work stoppage continues, said Charles Kawakami, president of Big Save, Inc.

“We’ve stocked up on certain key items, but it’s not going to last,” he said. “If it lasts two weeks, we’ll be out of some products.”

Not the least bit worried is Claire Morris, spokeswoman for the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort and Spa, who said the hotel buys locally whenever possible, is well-stocked for now, and will fly produce and other necessities in if things on the docks aren’t resolved longer-term.

“We are not concerned at all,” she said.

Alan Kennett, president and manager of Gay & Robinson, Inc., the island’s remaining sugar plantation, said a prolonged non-work situation at West Coast docks might make his company run short of lime, used in sugar processing.

The sugar operation has ample fertilizer on hand, and enough storage space for harvested sugar if the sugar-transport ship Moku Pahu doesn’t come for awhile, he said.

Some 29 seaports from California to Washington remain closed today for a fifth straight day in a lockout of workers by the involved shipping companies of the Pacific Maritime Association. The association’s members accused dock workers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of a Sunday work slowdown at 29 West Coast ports.

The two sides had been working without a contract until the Sunday lockout, with contract negotiations revealing that union representatives fear a management plan to install modernized equipment will cost member jobs.

The ILWU dock workers at Nawiliwili Harbor are, for now, unaffected by the West Coast lockout, but with nothing moving in or out of the West Coast may soon find themselves with no ships to load or unload.

About 90 percent of everything imported into the state, and to the island, comes via ocean freight, including around 65 percent of the state’s total food supply.

After this week’s arrival of goods, the supply of ocean freight from the West Coast through Honolulu will have effectively dried up if a settlement isn’t reached, Kawakami said.

“We have a warehouse, and we’ve stocked up on certain items. But there’s items that we can’t stock up on, really, perishable-type items, the meat and produce,” he said.

“Those are the items that we have to bring in weekly. We are going to fly in key, persihable-type items that our customers need,” if necessary, Kawakami continued.

Kawakami and others are encouraged about possible governmental intervention, with Alaska and Hawai’i governors already requesting continued shipments of goods because of the states’ dependence on sea shipping for necessities of daily living.

President Bush understands the economic impacts of a prolonged labor dispute, and has encouraged the ILWU and PMA to reach an agreement quickly.

Already, international impacts are being felt, as Asian ports sit idled, with Christmas toys and other holiday items awaiting shipment to the hungry U/S/ Mainland market.

The impact on Kaua’i, Kawakami said, hinges on the dispute’s length.

“It all depends on what happens in the negotiations,” he said. And the negotiations, helped along by a federal mediator, continue today.

If the lockout is settled soon, the Kaua’i impact will be a “blip,” maybe a one-week disruption of the regular flow of goods, he said.

“But if it goes beyond that, then it’s going to be real difficult to stock some of the other products that are not feasible to ship by air,” Kawakami said.

“For the short term, I think we’ll be OK. We won’t have to shut down stores,” he said. “We may not have all the products that the consumer wants, but what we’re doing right now is making every effort to get things locally.

“It may not be the exact brand that you want, but hopefully we’ll have some kind of similar product in,” he continued.

Big Save representatives are making arrangements to fly in certain produce, meats, deli items and other perishable products, but Kawakami said it would be a reduced selection of mainly the most popular products.

“If we fly it in, we’ve made a commitment that we’re not going to pass on the additional freight (charges) to the consumers. They’re loyal customers, and we’re trying to take care of their needs,” Kawakami said.

“Hopefully it doesn’t last too long.”

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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