Friday, March 6, 2015

Oakland Port Head Calls for Industry Change

By Mark Edward Nero

Disruptions from waterfront labor negotiations have waned, but dont expect a return to business as usual at West Coast ports, the Port of Oaklands executive director said during a March 4 meeting of the Waterfront Coalition in Long Beach, Calif.

The old methods wont work any longer, Port of Oakland executive director Chris Lytle told the Coalition, which is based in Washington, DC and consists of business interests representing shippers, transportation providers and other stakeholders within the transportation supply chain.

We cant go back to the way it was; thats not acceptable, Lytle said during a 90-minute roundtable discussion that also included the heads of the Los Angeles and Long Beach seaports. We have to do a better job for our customers if we want to hold onto our market share.

Lytle also addressed the aftermath of nine months of labor-management disputes on the waterfront. The longshore contract impasse ended Feb. 20 with a new five-year contract for 29 ports along the US West Coast.

Ports are currently digging out from a cargo backlog, and during the roundtable, Lytle called for a number of improvements to reshape his industry as recovery from the labor dispute gets underway.
His suggestions included reduced transaction times for harbor truck drivers, who sometimes spend more than two hours inside marine terminals picking up cargo; better measurement of terminal operating performance; and a new labor-management relationship.

We need a new mindset for negotiating, Lytle said. What we just went through was the worst experience in my professional career. I don't want to go through that again.

Lytle also said theres an opportunity for ports to play a greater role in labor relations by working with labor and management for greater collaboration. Although ports dont hire longshore labor terminal operators and shipping lines in the Pacific Maritime Association do -- Lytle said the port will meet with local labor officials and encourage them to take part in talks with shippers who rely on the Port of Oakland to move their cargo.

Better understanding of shipper needs can lead to better outcomes in future bargaining, he said.
The port will also work with leasing companies to improve the availability of truck chassis used to haul cargo containers, he added, indicating that the Port of Oakland will work toward a common pool of the trailers to prevent shortages from recurring.