PMA / ILWU Negotiation Update
On the heels of a recent exchange of contract proposals between the PMA and the ILWU one thing is clear; rumors of negotiations being close to a final contract are untrue.
The posturing escalated on Friday with the PMA's decision to reduce the number of gangs (work crews) typically unloading vessels in Long Beach and Los Angeles from three to one to allow port terminals to reduce the number of containers clogging their facilities.
In response to the PMA's actions ILWU spokesman for the Local 13 Adana Ortega said "the time needed to work a ship in the two ports could increase from about two and a half days to between eight to ten days. This will surely back up port traffic here in Long Beach and Los Angeles."
The PMA contends the congestion worsened as a result of a November decision by the ILWU to reduce the number of yard crane operators within the terminals by two-thirds. Yard crane operators are crucial to efficient terminal operations as they move containers around within the terminals and unload / load them onto chassis. PMA spokesman Wade Gates said "the ILWU's action in removing qualified yard-crane operators is equivalent to a football coach sending out 10 players and no quarterback. It doesn't make sense to keep up the current pace of work because of the lack of room at the terminals. If a parking lot were full, you would clear out empty spaces before bringing in more cars. The same rule applies here."
While the agreement on health care issues in August 2014 offered hope for a timely and peaceful negotiation process, it's becoming more evident that labor staffing levels is the 'elephant in the room'. Citing a need to position themselves for the efficient handling of bigger ships and growing cargo volumes, ocean carriers and terminal operators are calling for labor level flexibility and increased automation in terminal operations. The challenge: investments in automation can only be achieved through a reduction in labor costs which comes at the expense of reduction in ILWU manpower.
Update ~ Federal Mediator Intervention
The ILWU and PMA have requested the assistance of a federal mediator in their contract talks that have been going on since May. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) said it would not release information regarding future meeting dates and locations or have any other comment on the status or substance of the negotiations.
The FMCS only gets involved if both parties agree to mediation and the joint request for a mediator announced by the FMCS came after the PMA said last week that it was reducing number of longshoremen it was hiring to work on discharging and loading containerships in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
"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," said Allison Beck, acting director of the FMCS in a statement that was issued Monday evening. "We are prepared and ready to render prompt assistance. Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh, a senior FMCS mediator with extensive collective bargaining experience in this industry, has been assigned to help the parties bring these important negotiations to a mutually acceptable resolution."
"After the latest back-and-forth between the parties failed to resolve their differences, however, PMA has now agreed that outside intervention is necessary to bring the talks to conclusion, particularly given the ongoing impact of ILWU work slowdowns, which have disrupted cargo movement at the major West Coast ports of Tacoma, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach contract," the management group said on December 22.
PMA renewed that call on December 29, saying the ILWU had misrepresented the amount of progress in the talks and that "significant issues remain unresolved, including wages, pensions, jurisdiction and work rules."