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Labor Dispute Prompts West Coast Ports to Suspend Unloading

February 13, 2015 By: Trucking News Staff Tags: News, Regulations
Union Slowdowns Prompt West Coast Ports to Suspend Unloading

A labor dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) continues to result in slowdowns at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and other West Coast seaports.

In the most recent action, the PMA, which represents shipowners, said it will suspend the loading and unloading of cargo ships through Monday, which covers a weekend and a holiday (Washington’s birthday). By limiting work at the ports, dockworkers claim the PMA is pressuring them to settle on a labor contract.

Weekend and holiday pay rates command a premium of at least 50 percent of the basic longshore wage rate, according to the PMA. “As a result, working hours on those days would be paid at between $54 and $75 per hour for longshore workers and clerks, and between $77 and $92 per hour for foremen.”

For that reason, shipowners decided they won’t conduct vessel operations on those dates, concluding that, “Paying full shifts of ILWU workers such high rates for severely diminished productivity while the backlog of cargo at West Coast ports grows.”

Wade Gates, a PMA spokesman, said, “Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion. “The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet, and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock. What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.”

And while the ILWU has claimed that the parties are “this close,” they continue to push demands that would cripple the West Coast waterfront, the PMA claimed in a press release. “In particular, the union is demanding the right to fire any arbitrator who rules against them at the end of each contract period, even though those arbitrators are the referees who keep West Coast ports operating smoothly.

“The ILWU’s current slowdowns — now in their fourth month — show the very reason that we need a healthy arbitration system in place,” Gates said. “It is essential to be able to prevent the crippling slowdowns that are impacting workers and businesses across the nation.”

Last week, after nine months of contract talks, PMA said it made a comprehensive contract offer that would raise ILWU wages by 14 percent over five-years, on top of current average full-time wages of $147,000 per year. It would maintain fully employer-paid health care, worth $35,000 per year, and increase the ILWU pension to as much as $88,800 per year.

The pay guarantee program would ensure that longshore workers are paid for 40 hours per week, even if no work is available, and the ILWU would have jurisdiction over the maintenance and repair of truck chassis.

Union officials, who insist the two sides are close to reaching a settlement, have characterized shippers’ weekend cutbacks in vessel operations as public posturing aimed at exaggerating the magnitude of the crisis.

Meanwhile, congestion at the 29 West Coast ports — which together handle half of the container traffic entering the United States — has prompted many companies to reroute their merchandise to ports in other parts of the country. The National Retail Federation estimates it could cost $2 billion a day if the slowdown escalates into a lockout or a strike.