Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Longshore Workers, Supporters Picket PMA Offices

Hundreds of current and retired longshore workers picketed Pacific Maritime Association offices along the West Coast on July 8 as part of a protest against a new medical benefits payment system.

As part of what it calls its “Battle for our Benefits” campaign, several hundred International Longshore & Warehouse union members past and present turned up at the PMA Southern California offices in Long Beach, California, while dozens more were at the Association’s offices in Tacoma, Wash. and elsewhere up and down the coast to protest a medical insurance program adopted by the PMA in January.

In Long Beach, scores of workers at Pier B walked off the job to join the one-day protest, resulting in a work stoppage at the terminal. The adjoining Port of Los Angeles, however, reported no stoppage issues associated with the protest.

The Port of Tacoma also reported no work stoppages, which was in contrast to a similar protest conducted in April that resulted in Tacoma’s largest terminal, Washington United, being shut down.

The picketers say they were spurred to protest by the new insurance program’s lateness in paying medical bills. Although some doctors and health care providers are being paid promptly by the association’s benefit management company, Zenith American Solutions, others have been forced into collections because of months-long processing delays, according to numerous ILWU members throughout the West Coast.

However, the PMA, which contracts with ILWU labor, decried the pickets in a statement, saying that the longshore workers were “waging the wrong battle” and that the delays in claim payments were related to medical fraud and abuse, including billing for services that weren’t provided; charging for non-covered services like cosmetic surgery; and inflating patients’ bills with unnecessary charges.

“Rather than picketing employers and disrupting terminal operations as part of its ‘Battle for Our Benefits’ work action, the ILWU members should join PMA in taking aim at tens of millions of dollars in fraud and abuse in the union’s health care plan,” the statement read in part.

The union and PMA are scheduled to debate the issue before an arbitrator on July 16, according to union spokesman Greg Mitre.