West Coast Port Update

Posted January 14, 2015
Category Company News
PMA Warns: “Complete gridlock is on the horizon”

The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) released the following statement, “backups at the five largest West Coast ports have reached levels that are no longer sustainable as a result of staged slowdowns by the ILWU.  Operations are approaching complete gridlock.”  The number of ships at anchor in Los Angeles / Long Beach, CA has grown to approximately 10 with backups expected to worsen in light of the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday in the Far East which begins on February 19th.

Punctuating the pace of negotiations which have just reached the eight month mark is the recent engagement of Federal Mediation services in the hopes of ending the present impasse.  While the trade community and our nation’s economy suffers the PMA and ILWU each posture and point a finger at each other as the party responsible for the present logjam.

"Unfortunately, it appears the union’s motivation is to continue slowdowns in an attempt to gain leverage in the bargaining," said PMA association spokesman Steve Getzug. “Since late October 2014, the ILWU has crippled what were fully productive terminals along the west coast by intentionally withholding dozens of essential skilled workers each shift for the past 10 weeks.  By withholding an average of 75 yard crane drivers each day, the ILWU has stalled the movement of tens of thousands of containers."
In response to the PMA’s statement, ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees stated, “the shortage of yard crane operators (these are the operators of cranes that are used to move containers within terminals or on or off drayage trucks as opposed to the ship-to-shore cranes used to load and discharge containers from vessels) is a consequence of PMA’s refusal -- before the commencement of negotiations -- to adequately train.”  Additionally, association negotiators have conceded that the delays are mostly due to a shortage of truck chassis to unload shipping containers.  In a written statement, he said management is proposing to end night shifts at many ports, which would only serve to worsen backups, "in a self-serving attempt to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table."

The ILWU said that in contract negotiations Monday afternoon officials from the PMA told a federal mediator and longshore negotiators that West Coast ports have reached a point where there is little space available for additional import containers arriving on the docks – and no space for export and empty containers returning to the docks.    

“After explaining how the lack of dock space for containers and shortages of chassis were crippling the ports, the PMA announced an illogical plan to eliminate night-shifts at many ports. In addition to cutting shifts at major container ports, the PMA cutbacks would also apply to bulk and break-bulk operations – for no apparent reason other than as a cynical tactic to generate anxiety among workers.  Cancelling night shifts and reducing bulk operations will do nothing to ease the congestion crisis. The PMA appears to be abusing public ports and putting the economy at risk in a self-serving attempt to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table, and create the appearance of a crisis in order to score points with politicians in Washington,” the ILWU said.

PMA noted ILWU members are “among the highest paid union workers in America, are receiving full wages and benefits while stifling productivity and putting West Coast port terminals at the brink of full shutdown. To date, the ILWU and PMA have reached tentative agreements on health care and increases to pay guarantees. That tentative agreement provides fully employer-paid health care benefits valued at $35,000 per worker annually. PMA also has proposed pay increases and pension enhancements. There are no takeaways in the PMA proposal.”
Our thoughts: Given the posturing and stance of both parties on the remaining issues, hope for a timely resolution is bleak.  One thing is certain, as each party works to gain the upper hand in the negotiations importers and exporters nationwide continue to suffer.
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