The Pacific Maritime Association, representing port employers, suspended ship unloading for four days during the holidays — a time when dockworkers are entitled to overtime pay — reporting that management did not want to pay the premium rate during worker slowdowns.
PMA and the ILWU negotiators, who had been scheduled for a full session on Thursday along with the federal mediator, met briefly in San Francisco before recessing, according to Steve Getzug, spokesman for the PMA. The two parties have conducted nine months of contentious talks in order to agree on the terms of a new contract for up to 20,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports. The previous six-year contract expired on July 1, 2014.
“The continued intransigence by labor and management to reach a new contract is unacceptable,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain for the National Retail Foundation. “Retailers and the rest of the supply chain are frustrated beyond belief.”
The four days affected by the suspension of vessel operations include Thursday, 2/12 (yesterday – Lincoln’s Birthday); and Saturday, 2/14 through Monday, 2/16 (Washington’s Birthday).
“In light of ongoing and costly ILWU slowdowns,” the PMA statement said, “PMA members will temporarily suspend premium-pay weekend and holiday vessel operations on four upcoming dates, while yard, gate and rail operations will continue at terminal operators’ discretion. In Southern California, terminal operators will expand daytime vessel operations on non-holiday weekdays.
“PMA members have concluded that they will not conduct vessel operations on those dates, paying full shifts of ILWU workers such high rates for severely diminished productivity while the backlog of cargo at West Coast ports grows.”
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union issued a statement in response to the PMA suspension, noting the action marks the second time in less than a week that employers have idled vessels.
According to the PMA, the current point of contention in West Coast longshore worker contract talks is a union demand that both sides have the ability to unilaterally remove local arbitrators once a labor contract has been agreed upon.
Those arbitrators settle disputes on the docks, when a contract is in place. Currently, both sides must agree to remove an arbitrator.
“Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates. “The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock.”
The union said PMA has mischaracterized the ILWU’s bargaining position, but did not elaborate.
“This is an effort by the employers to put economic pressure on our members and to gain leverage in contract talks,” said ILWU President Robert McEllrath in the statement. “The union is standing by ready to negotiate, as we have been for the past several days.”
In a video trending on social media, McEllrath addresses the ILWU membership, encouraging rank and file union dockworkers to “ignore PMA’s bullshit” and continue to support ILWU contract negotiators.
“The slowdowns need to end,” said NRF’s Gold. “The brinkmanship needs to stop. The ILWU and PMA are delaying cargo and merchandise in the short-term while harming the competitiveness of the West Coast ports in the long-term. This stalemate is hurting American businesses, their employees and consumers.”
Check out this LAist piece that features stunning aerial photos of the cargo traffic jam off L.A./Long Beach: laist.com
SOURCE: Cargo Business News