US West Coast Ports Reopen as Contract Talks Resume
The US West Coast ports reopened Monday morning after employers closed the docks for two days, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) said.
PMA attributed temporary suspension of port operations at the West Coast to a decision not to pay workers premium pay for diminished productivity.
Talks to resolve the few remaining issues between the Longshore Union and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) are ongoing.
“The union remains focused on reaching a settlement as quickly as possible with employers,” ILWU commented.
PMA said on Monday that the biggest reason for stalling of West Coast contract negotiations is the ILWU’s demand to be able to fire any arbitrator who rules against the Union.
“This provision would give the ILWU veto-power over arbitrators’ rights to prevent Union slowdowns, and in so doing would threaten the consistent and reliable movement of cargo through West Coast ports,” PMA’s release said.
“The same arbitrators who have ruled against the ILWU are the ones being targeted by this latest contract demand,” the release reads.
However, on the same day ILWU published aerial photos on its website, taken on February 6th, showing “that there are acres of asphalt waiting for the containers that sit on dozens of ships waiting to be unloaded at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and sufficient space for thousands of containers on the docks.”
“The PMA has told the media that the ports are too full to receive cargo, but the photos tell another story. And though the docks are clear, the transportation chain (intermodal squeeze from export energy trains and chassis shortage) remains congested due to factors outside of the scope of the ILWU,” the Union explained.
According to PMA spokesman Wade Gates, the waterfront arbitration system is an essential check-and-balance against illegal labor actions.
“It would be reckless to allow a single party to change the rules as the Union desires,” he commented.
Waterfront arbitrators rule quickly, meaning that disputes can be addressed promptly and port operations can resume without lengthy disruption. During the 2008 – 2014 contract, arbitrators presided over more than 250 labor disputes involving allegations of Union slowdowns or work stoppages, and employers won more than 85 percent of those cases.
“The only reason those slowdowns don’t happen all the time is that arbitrators are able to order the ILWU back to work. If the ILWU has the right to continue slowdowns as a way of life without recourse, the impact on the waterfront could be catastrophic,” Gates adds.
Currently, once an arbitrator has been hired, he can be removed only by mutual consent of the parties. According to PMA, the ILWU is seeking to change this provision so that either party could remove an arbitrator at the end of any contract. PMA said that it strenuously objects to this attempt “to damage the system that has protected the waterfront for decades.”
World Maritime News Staff; Images: Taken at LB 94 and LBCT by a team of longshore workers