Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ports Reopen, Labor Secretary Enters Contract Talks

By Mark Edward Nero

Ports up and down the US West Coast resumed vessel operations the morning of Feb. 17, bringing to an end a four-day lockout instituted by the Pacific Maritime Association as part of an ongoing dispute with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The four dates affected by the suspension of vessel operations were Thurs. Feb. 12; Sat., Feb. 14; Sun., Feb. 15; and Mon., Feb. 16. Yard, gate and rail operations, however, did continue at terminal operators’ discretion.

The PMA, which represents cargo terminal management, has said it imposed the operations shutdown because workers have been engaged in an illegal work slowdown and that it didn’t want to give weekend and holiday pay to longshore workers during President’s Day weekend.

Weekend and holiday pay rates command a premium of at least 50 percent more than the basic longshore wage rate.

The two sides have been engaged in contract talks since May but haven’t been able to reach a resolution, even though a federal arbitrator joined the talks in January. On Feb. 15, President Obama sent US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to the San Francisco Bay Area, where the two sides of the issue have been negotiating a new contract. Talks are expected to resume with the Labor Secretary in attendance today.

The previous six-year deal expired July 1. On Feb. 4, the PMA revealed it had made the union an offer that would raise ILWU wages by 14 percent over five years, on top of current average full-time wages of $147,000 per year and would maintain fully employer-paid health care, plus increase the ILWU pension to as much as $88,800 per year.

The ILWU, while not commenting on specifics on the contract offer, has insisted that the two sides are close to an agreement.