Friday, November 7, 2014

PMA Accuses ILWU of Work Slowdown

By Mark Edward Nero

The Pacific Maritime Association is accusing the International Longshore & Warehouse Union of reneging on an agreement to continue normal operations while the two sides are engaged in contract negotiations, and orchestrating work slowdowns at two Pacific Northwest seaports.

“The International Longshore & Warehouse Union has initiated orchestrated slowdowns at the Pacific Northwest ports of Seattle and Tacoma, severely impacting many of the largest terminals during the peak holiday shipping season,” the PMA wrote in a Nov. 3 news release sent to media outlets.

Seattle and Tacoma together handle an estimated 16 percent of containerized cargo on the West Coast.

The PMA, which represents more than 70 multinational ocean carriers and maritime companies, and the ILWU, which bargains for nearly 13,600 workers at 29 ports along the West Coast from Washington to California, are in the sixth month of negotiations for a new contract.

Initially, the PMA and ILWU set a July goal of reaching a new agreement, and after the previous six-year contract expired July 1, the two sides agreed to continue operations under the language of the expired deal, according to the PMA. The ILWU, however, denies this.

“This is a bold-faced lie,” the union said in its own Nov. 3 statement regarding the situation. “No such agreement was ever made, nor could it be made given the parties’ historic disagreement regarding the definition of ‘normal operations’ – a disagreement that has been the subject of arbitrations for decades.”

The PMA says it has found that the slowdowns at two Pacific Northwest ports have resulted in terminal productivity being reduced by an average of 40 to 60 percent. For example, the Association contends, terminals that typically move 25-35 containers per hour were moving only 10 to 18 containers, according to statistics compiled by PMA, which tracks historical productivity based on the number of containers moved per hour for each vessel at the same terminal.

The union contends that the PMA’s accusations are merely an attempt to deflect responsibility from a growing congestion problem at major West Coast ports and that they delay progress in negotiations.