Latest volley in port labor battle halts unloading of ships

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | Friday, February 13, 2015

An ongoing battle between port workers and major U.S. shippers and receivers has brought freight movement to a screeching halt at several West Coast ports over Presidents Day weekend.

Cargo owners have halted the unloading of ships at several ports beginning Thursday, Feb. 12, through Monday, Feb. 16, a move some union representatives say is designed to leverage more power against port workers who are losing shifts and income. The two sides have stopped and started negotiations on a new labor contract after the previous one expired last summer.

The Pacific Maritime Association announced the suspension of premium-pay weekend and holiday vessel operations while blaming the International Longshore and Warehouse Union for goods movement slowdowns.

The PMA said it made a contract offer designed to bring the labor dispute to an end.

“The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet,” PMA spokesman Wade Gates said in a news release. “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.”

The ILWU countered by publishing aerial photographs of empty port docks. The union says the pictures prove shippers are purposely slowing goods movement to help themselves at the bargaining table.

While 14 cargo ships were spotted anchored near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, freight is reportedly continuing to be off-loaded onto trains and trucks.

Rachel Campbell, a spokeswoman with the Port of Los Angeles, suggested truck drivers headed to the ports for imports or exports use the port’s PierPass.org website.

“Since the gates and yard are still open, truckers should call their shipping line to get status updates,” Campbell told Land Line by email.

Other parties couldn’t care less about who is more to blame.

The U.S. retail industry, which brings nearly half of goods to market through the twin ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach alone, could lose billions daily during a protracted shutdown.

“The continued intransigence by labor and management to reach a new contract is unacceptable,” said National Retail Federation Vice President Jonathan Gold, according to a statement issued Wednesday, Feb. 11. “Retailers and the rest of the supply chain are frustrated beyond belief. The slowdowns need to end. The brinkmanship needs to stop. … This stalemate is hurting American businesses, their employees and consumers.”

The National Retail Federation called for the White House to step in and intervene with the labor dispute.

“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,” Gold’s statement said. “The time for monitoring has passed. The time for action has come.”

Retailers aren’t the only industry calling for the dispute to end.

“Nobody wins by the current situation,” said U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., according to his office’s website.

McCarthy’s central valley district surrounds the Bakersfield area where farmers are losing millions of dollars every day as produce rots during the shutdowns.

“Everyone loses in this country because of what’s going on,” he said during a news conference. “This is something that cannot continue. This is a time that we put people before politics, we put the American economy first, and we make sure we’re able to grow and get these two individual sides together to solve this problem.”

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