West Coast PMA locks out ILWU to stop loading, unloading ships for four days

West Coast PMA locks out ILWU to stop loading, unloading ships for four days
West Coast ports to stop loading, unloading ships for four days

Trucks stream into the Maersk terminal near sundown as cargo containers fill the yard in San Pedro, CA on Thursday, January 29, 2015. With port operations all but shut down during the night, the shipping yards are filled with mountains of containers as ships wait offshore to enter the harbor and unload their cargo. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze)
By Karen Robes-Meeks, karen.robes@langnews.com, @KarenMeeksPT on Twitter
Amid epic congestion that has seized the nation’s busiest seaports, employers at West Coast ports announced Wednesday they will suspend ship loading and unloading day shifts for four days.

The Pacific Maritime Association, the group representing employers, said it will stop vessel operations Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday because they don’t want to pay upcoming weekend and holiday shifts for what they consider “severely diminished productivity” by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 20,000 dockworkers, including those who work at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Yard, gate and rail operations will continue at the discretion of terminal operators, while ship operation night shifts have remained suspended since Jan. 13. On non-holiday weekdays, terminal operators in Southern California will expand daytime vessel operations.

According to PMA, longshore workers can earn at least 50 percent more pay for working weekends and holidays, adding that longshore workers and clerks stand to make $54 to $75 per hour, while foremen can make between $77 and $92 per hour.

“Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion,” PMA spokesman Wade Gates said in a statement. “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.”

PMA is blaming ILWU for not hiring enough crane operators to move cargo out of congested yards, forcing them to suspend night ship operations indefinitely to focus on clearing yards.

ILWU officials have vehemently denied that they are the cause of slowdowns, adding that employers are the ones who have been ordering fewer workers to move cargo in the last several months and that PMA refuses to hire and properly train employees for the skilled work.

The union also said that PMA has been disingenuous about why employers suspended night shifts for loading and unloading ships, releasing photos of empty yard spaces where containers should be.

“This is an effort by the employers to put economic pressure on our members and to gain leverage in contract talks,” ILWU President Robert McEllrath said in a statement. “The union is standing by ready to negotiate, as we have been for the past several days.”

McEllrath added that employers cancelled a contract meeting scheduled for Wednesday and have not made themselves available to negotiate since Friday.

Since May, both sides have been engaged in contract talks to replace the one that expired in July. Despite securing tentative agreements on health benefits and the jurisdictional issue of repairing and fixing chassis, the trailers needed to tow containers, talks have stalled, prompting the intervention of a federal mediator.

Some thought the addition of a mediator would hasten talks, but contention between both sides has escalated in recent weeks, with PMA suspending ship operation shifts this past weekend.

PMA said there are at least six issues that remain resolved, including wages, pensions and the issue of removing an arbitrator, those who decide whether work stoppage is bonafide. PMA said the union wants the right to remove an arbitrator who rules against them at the end of each contract period.

“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.”

ILWU said PMA has grossly mischaracterized the union’s bargaining position and have said that both sides are close to a contract.

“It seems to us that the employers are trying to sabotage negotiations,” said McEllrath. “They are not just hurting workers, families and communities,” he said, “what our employers are doing is bad for the industry and the U.S. economy.”

Meanwhile, congestion continues to plague ports and impact the entire supply chain, from truck drivers waiting for hours to pick up container to more than a dozen ships parked at sea waiting for berths at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. It has forced retailers to divert goods to other ports or ship them by air.

“The continued intransigence by labor and management to reach a new contract is unacceptable,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for Supply Chain for the National Retail Federation. “Retailers and the rest of the supply chain are frustrated beyond belief. The slowdowns need to end. 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.”

Gold urged both sides to remain at the table and called for the White House to intervene.

“It’s time for the White House to immediately engage in this critically-important economic priority and force the two sides to remain at the negotiating table until a deal is done. The time for monitoring has passed. The time for action has come.”

Contact Karen Robes Meeks at 562-714-2088.