West Coast port terminals to suspend vessel operations four of next five days
PMA said ships will not load or unload cargo Thursday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday due to continuing ILWU slowdowns.The Pacific Maritime Association said it will suspend vessel operations at West Coast port terminals on four of the next five days, rather than pay premium salaries to members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The four dates affected by the suspension of vessel operations are Thursday, 2/12 (Lincoln’s Birthday); Saturday, 2/14; Sunday, 2/15; and Monday, 2/16 (Washington’s Birthday).
PMA spokesman Wade Gates said the longshoremen are continuing slowdowns “that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock. What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.”
“In light of ongoing and costly ILWU slowdowns, PMA members will temporarily suspend premium-pay weekend and holiday vessel operations on four upcoming dates, while yard, gate and rail operations will continue at terminal operators’ discretion,” the PMA said in an announcement Wednesday afternoon.
The union fired back at the PMA with a statement of its own, saying, "The cessation of vessel operations was initiated by employers, and is NOT a strike by workers."
ILWU President Robert McEllrath said the action was "an effort by the employers to put economic pressure on our members and to gain leverage in contract talks."
He said the PMA cancelled a negotiating session scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon and representatives have not made themselves available to negotiate since last Friday.
"The Union is standing by ready to negotiate, as we have been for the past several days,” McEllrath added.
“Weekend and holiday pay rates command a premium of at least 50 percent of the basic longshore wage rate," the PMA said. "As a result, working hours on those days would be paid at between $54 and $75 per hour for longshore workers and clerks, and between $77 and $92 per hour for foremen. PMA members have concluded that they will not conduct vessel operations on those dates, paying full shifts of ILWU workers such high rates for severely diminished productivity while the backlog of cargo at West Coast ports grows.”
“Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates. “The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet.”
The PMA said the union is continuing “to push demands that would cripple the West Coast waterfront. In particular, the Union is demanding the right to fire any arbitrator who rules against them at the end of each contract period, even though those arbitrators are the referees who keep West Coast ports operating smoothly. During the 2008 – 2014 contract period, the four area arbitrators found the ILWU guilty of more than 200 slowdowns or work stoppages.”
“The ILWU’s current slowdowns, now in their fourth month, show the very reason that we need a healthy arbitration system in place,” Gates added. “It is essential to be able to prevent the crippling slowdowns that are impacting workers and businesses across the nation.”
After nine months of contract talks, PMA said last week that it had made a comprehensive contract 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. It said would maintain fully employer-paid health care, worth $35,000 per year, and increase the ILWU pension to as much as $88,800 per year. PMA said the pay guarantee program would ensure that longshore workers are paid for 40 hours per week, even if no work is available, and the ILWU would have jurisdiction over the maintenance and repair of truck chassis.
The ILWU said in its statement, "Longshore workers earn excellent benefits and good hourly wages ranging from $26-$41 per hour."
But it continued, "Most are unable to work a full 2000 hours in a normal work year. The typical pay for an experienced longshore worker is $83,000. Longshore work is extremely hazardous, with fatality rates exceeding those of police and firefighters."
The National Retail Federation issued a statement calling on the White House to intervene in the West Coast port labor dispute
Jonathan Gold, the NRF vice president for supply chain said, “The continued intransigence by labor and management to reach a new contract is unacceptable. Retailers and the rest of the supply chain are frustrated beyond belief.
“The slowdowns need to end," said Gold. "The brinkmanship needs to stop. The ILWU and PMA are delaying cargo and merchandise in the short-term while harming the competitiveness of the West Coast ports in the long-term. This stalemate is hurting American businesses, their employees and consumers.
“If the ILWU and PMA are serious about reaching a new labor contract, they need to remain at the table," he continued. “It’s time for the White House to immediately engage in this critically-important economic priority and force the two sides to remain at the negotiating table until a deal is done. The time for monitoring has passed. The time for action has come.”
While reducing weekend and holiday ship operations, the PMA said that on Friday and ongoing for weekdays beginning next Tuesday, terminal operators in Los Angeles and Long Beach can choose to allocate additional crane operators to vessels, depending on the conditions of their yards.