Tuesday, January 6, 2015

PMA Accuses ILWU of Withholding Labor

By Mark Edward Nero

The Pacific Maritime Association on Jan. 3 accused the International Longshore & Warehouse Union of engaging in a work slowdown in order to gain leverage in the ongoing contract talks between the two parties.

“The union, and Local 13 in particular, has led a sustained campaign over the last two months to withhold critically-important, skilled longshore workers from their shifts on the docks,” the PMA said in a statement that alleged that crane operators, who receive and deliver containers, were being held back.

“By withholding them, the union has negatively impacted cargo-handling operations throughout Southern California,” the PMA said while alleging that the union’s work actions started at the end of October, when contract talks began to stall.

The PMA said it estimates that the average number of shifts for qualified crane operators has dropped from an average of more than 110 per day to under 35 daily, something that has resulted in “tens of thousands of containers available for discharge sitting on the docks at the twin ports.”

Employers put in orders for the number of operators needed, and the ILWU unilaterally cut back those orders by two-thirds, the PMA claims.

“Removing qualified yard crane drivers from terminal operations is the equivalent of a football coach sending out 10 players and no quarterback. You can’t run the play effectively,” PMA spokesman Wade Gates said. “The congestion in the terminals is near a breaking point.”

The PMA says that in order to focus efforts on clearing containers from terminal yards and get them moving to their final destinations, it has been reducing the number of workers ordered to unload ships on night shifts, thereby avoiding the prospect of creating gridlock that the additional unloading of ships would create.

“It makes no sense to maintain the pace of removing containers from ships when there’s no room for them on the terminals,” Gates said. “If a parking lot were full, you would clear out empty spaces before bringing in more cars. The same rule applies here.”

“It’s not solely the number of longshoremen the union is making available that matters, it’s the type of workers themselves,” Gates said. “Without qualified yard crane drivers who play a critical role in loading and offloading cargo containers from trucks, the congestion problem is made far worse at terminal yards.”

In response, the ILWU on Jan. 3 denied that it has been withholding labor and said the congestion issues at the Southern California ports were due to larger vessels bringing in an ever-increasing number of containers, plus a shortage of chassis’ used to haul the containers to and from the port terminals.

The PMA and ILWU have been in negotiations since May 2014. The previous six-year labor pact between the two sides, which covered almost 20,000 longshore workers at 29 ports up and down the West Coast, expired July 1.