Friday, October 12, 2012

Labor Dispute Halts Marine Highway Project Launch

The planned dedication of a new barge service in Stockton, over which US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was expected to preside, had to be called off this week due to concerns over a dispute between stevedoring company Ports America and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The $30 million Marine Highway project, under which cargo containers would be shuttled between the ports of Stockton and Oakland, was supposed to be dedicated Oct. 11, but the ceremony was postponed by the Port of Stockton.

"We have many questions related to labor issues that arose between the longshore union and the stevedoring company involved,” port Director Richard Aschieris told the Stockton Record newspaper Oct. 9. “And really, without working labor, there’s no way – it’s impossible -- to start the service.”

According to ILWU Local 54, the dispute centers around the number of workers needed for the barge operation. The union says Ports America wants to use only about half the number of compared to other maritime ship operations in Stockton. The two sides are still in negotiations over the amount of labor required for the job.

When eventually launched, the Marine Highway would travel parallel to Interstate 580, the corridor that many truckers use to transport goods to and from the ports of Stockton and Oakland. It’s estimated that about 1,600 containers per day move between the Stockton and Oakland ports along I-580, which is one of the state’s most congested freeways.

LaHood was expected for the dedication ceremony because funding for the project comes partially from the US Department of Transportation. In February 2010, the port received a $13 million federal grant to buy two 140-ton mobile harbor cranes and to make needed infrastructure improvements to support the container-on-barge project.