By Mark Edward Nero
The Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore & Warehouse Union haven’t agreed on much lately, but one thing both sides agreed with was that federal mediation was needed in their prolonged contract talks.
And on Jan. 5, the US Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service said that it had listened to both sides and was stepping in to help.
“In response to a joint request for assistance from the parties, collective bargaining between ILWU and PMA representatives will continue as soon as possible under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service,” mediation service Acting Director Allison Beck, said in a prepared statement announcing the move. “We are prepared and ready to render prompt assistance.”
Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh, a senior mediator with extensive collective bargaining experience in this industry, has been assigned to help the parties bring the negotiations to a mutually acceptable resolution, according to the FMCS.
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.
Negotiations between the two sides have been contentious, with the most recent example being the PMA on Jan. 3 accusing the ILWU of engaging in a work slowdown, particularly at the LA-Long Beach port complex, in order to gain leverage in the ongoing contract talks.
The PMA said it estimates that since the end of October, the average number of shifts for qualified crane operators has dropped from an average of more than 110 per day to less than 35 daily, something that has resulted in “tens of thousands of containers available for discharge sitting on the docks at the twin ports.”
The ILWU has denied withholding labor and says 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 FMCS says it is not releasing information regarding future PMA-ILWU meeting dates and locations, nor will it have any other comment in the near future regarding the status or substance of negotiations.