US west coast ports heading for total shutdown as union ups industrial action
As predicted earlier this week, go-slows at US west coast ports have now spread to southern California, with up to 80% of container handling capacity on the coast now in danger of being affected. The west coast terminal employers’ body, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), yesterday said that dockworkers’ union the ILWU had begun refusing to dispatch hundreds of operators of yard handling equipment in the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, intensifying the already serious congestion in the region. “Many of the qualified, skilled members the ILWU is withholding have more than 1,000 hours of experience operating this equipment. As a result, the PMA estimates that the ILWU’s withholding of skilled workers will leave half of the yard crane positions unfilled unless corrective actions are taken,” the PMA said in a statement. The slowdown comes after six months of negotiations between the ILWU and PMA over a new master employment contract. The previous contract expired at the end of June, and until this week operations had continued as normal – although a combination of heavy pre-Christmas volumes, a lack of container chassis in the terminals and a shortage of drivers had led to congestion in Los Angeles and Long Beach. With the new slowdowns, PMA spokesman Wade Gates said the congested ports could descend into gridlock. “Although the existing congestion has had ripple effects throughout the supply chain, it is the ILWU slowdowns that now have the potential to bring the port complex to the brink of gridlock.
“The ILWU’s orchestrated job actions are threatening the west coast’s busiest ports and potentially billions of dollars in commerce. It is essential that the ILWU return to normal operations, as promised, so that we can continue meaningful negotiations in a productive environment free of union-staged slowdowns that are disrupting terminal operations at our largest ports,” he said. Union sources confirmed that Local 13, the ILWU chapter that covers Los Angeles and Long Beach, had ordered members that operate yard equipment to leave scores of moves in the yards undone. Meanwhile, congestion in Tacoma worsened this week, with a truck queue to the terminals said to be several miles long. In response, a group of shipper and freight forwarder organizations has sent a letter to President Obama requesting his personal intervention to resolve the dispute. It predicted that the costs of the dispute could be as much as $2bn a day, citing recent research by the National Retail Federation “The sudden change in tone is alarming and suggests that a full shutdown of every west coast port may be imminent. The impact this would have on jobs, downstream consumers and the business operations of exporters, importers, retailers, transportation providers, manufacturers and other stakeholders would be catastrophic,” the letter said. It added: “We believe immediate action is necessary, and the federal government’s use of all of its available options would be helpful in heading off a shut-down and keeping the parties at the negotiating table.”
US West Coast waterfront employers accuse ILWU of withholding LA-LB labor
LONG BEACH, California — Fearing that gridlock at the largest U.S. port complex is imminent, the Pacific Maritime Association today blasted the International Longshore and Warehouse Union for withholding skilled labor at Los Angeles-Long Beach. While at least a dozen factors contribute to port congestion in Southern California, “it is the ILWU slowdowns that now have the potential to bring the port complex to the brink of gridlock,” PMA spokesman said Wade Gates said in a release. The ports of Seattle and Tacoma have also been slammed by ILWU actions that began last weekend. “The ILWU’s job actions, which have already crippled operations at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, now threaten to do the same in Los Angeles and Long Beach. Together these four ports collectively handle nearly 80 percent of all containerized cargo at West Coast ports,” Gates said. Withholding workers that have been trained to operate container-handling equipment in the terminal yards is now the tactic of choice in Los Angeles-Long Beach. Most of the container yards at the 13 terminals in Southern California are filled to capacity. If the yards are not decongested immediately, the next wave of weekly vessel calls scheduled to arrive this weekend will have nowhere to unload their containers. Some terminal operators report that they have been working vessels with only two ship-to-shore cranes rather that four or five. They are devoting most of their skilled equipment operators to the yards in a desperate effort to decongest the terminals. However, the ILWU is reportedly dispatching only 50 percent of the skilled equipment operators that employers are seeking each day.
“As a result, the PMA estimates that the ILWU’s withholding of skilled workers will leave half of the yard crane positions unfilled unless corrective actions are taken,” Gates said. If this condition persists, it will take the terminals at least a week to completely work each vessel. Ships will continue to be forced to sit at anchor awaiting berths. The ILWU on the West Coast has been working without a contract since the previous contract expired on July 1. With no contract in place, the grievance machinery that allows the PMA and the ILWU to seek immediate arbitration on labor issues is not in effect. Employers therefore have no leverage over longshoremen, other than a lockout, to seek relief. Both the ILWU and the PMA pledged on July 1 to continue bargaining in good faith and to maintain normal cargo-handling operations. That was in fact the scenario that unfolded for the ensuing four months. However, the ILWU last Friday began slow-down operations in Tacoma, the PMA stated. The slowdowns began in Seattle over the weekend, and they continued all of this week. The PMA stated that cargo-handling productivity in the Pacific Northwest down 40 to 60 percent. The job actions spread to Los Angeles-Long Beach on the evening shift Tuesday, and have continued non-stop since then, according to the PMA. This development is especially dangerous because the Southern California port complex handles about 70 percent of the container volume on the West Coast. This development could also indicate that the main obstacle to reaching a contract settlement is not at the coast level, but rather in Los Angeles-Long Beach, where the ILWU local is fighting the introduction of automation. In an Oct. 21 ILWU Local 13 electronic bulletin, the union’s largest local charged that the automated machines being installed at the TraPac terminal in Los Angeles were unsafe. “Until the union has determined that the automated operation is safe, it will remain SHUT DOWN!” the bulletin stated. If the automation issue in Southern California is in fact impeding progress toward settlement of a coast wide contract, this could indicate that the ILWU leadership is losing control over its locals. This past week’s job actions in Southern California and in the Pacific Northwest could be pointing in that direction.
The ILWU was not immediately available for comment.