A public relations firm for the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) recently issued a media release accusing International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) members of conducting a slow down at the US’ West Coast ports.
The media release said that the slow down resulted from union members being overly vigilant in conducting safety reviews of container truck chassis, the long trailers used for ground transport of ocean-going cargo containers.
According to the media release, the union members’ slow down has resulted in extreme freight congestion at West Coast ports.
ILWU leaders condemned the media release for being misleading and deceptive.
“This is a bold-faced lie,” said the ILWU in its own media release.
The slow down charge was made while the ILWU and PMA are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that will cover work done at ports in California, Oregon, and Washington.
PMA represents 70 multi-national ocean-going carriers and maritime companies in labor negotiations with the ILWU.
The current contract expired in July, but the two sides have continued to negotiate while workers work under the terms of the old contract.
The ILWU said that PMA’s media release blaming workers for the freight congestion is deceptive on two counts.
First, the media release said that the workers’ slow down violated an agreement between the two parties that was supposed to ensure that “normal operations” continue while negotiations are in progress.
“No such agreement was ever made,” said the ILWU media release. “Nor could it be made given the parties historic disagreement regarding the definition of ‘normal operations.'”
Furthermore, there are a number of other well documented reasons for the congestion including rail service delays, insufficient numbers of short-haul container truck drivers, and heavier than usual port traffic.
But the main cause is a problem that PMA members themselves created.
Earlier this year, PMA members began selling their container truck chassis to third-party contractors.
As a result of the sell off, PMA members divested themselves of thousands of truck chassis.
According to the ILWU, the sell off was conducted to put pressure on the union to agree to contract concessions.
Prior to the sell off, ILWU members repaired and maintained the chassis. But now jurisdiction over this work is in dispute, which could cost the union thousands of jobs.
The sell off, however, has backfired because the third-party contractors have been unable to supply truck chassis in a timely and efficient manner.
What we have at the busiest ports like the one at the Port of Long Beach in California is a severe shortage of truck chassis, which according to Jon Slangerup, chief executive of the Port of Long Beach, has caused chaos on the docks and is the main reason for the congestion.
That assessment is shared by Dr. Noel Hacegaba, the port’s chief commercial officer, who told the Long Beach Post that the truck chassis crisis is the main cause of the freight congestion.
“We don’t see the longshore contract negotiations as a factor in the congestion,” added Lee Peterson, a spokesperson for the Port of Los Angeles in the same article. “The cause is due to the chassis situation and the high volume of cargo this peak season.”
The stakes are high during the contract negotiations between PMA and the ILWU, which may explain why the PMA resorted to a deceitful public relations ploy.
Like most other employers, PMA is trying to shift more of the cost of health care onto its workers.
Thanks to the strength of the ILWU and to many years of united struggle, ILWU members enjoy a generous health care plan that rivals that of many CEO’s.
Like CEO health care plans, the ILWU members’ plan is paid for almost entirely by their employers.
However, because of the Affordable Care Act, these premium health care plans in the near future will pay a tax, which PMA estimates could be as much as $150 million.
PMA wants the workers to shoulder most of the cost of this tax by accepting cuts to their health benefits.
PMA also wants to weaken the workers’ hard won pension benefit.
The new collective bargaining agreement must also address jurisdictional issues.
As port operators introduce more technology that automates work, old jobs will be eliminated and new ones created.
The PMA would like to transfer the jurisdiction over these new jobs away from ILWU members.
With so much at stake, says the ILWU, the PMA launched a media offensive that tried to shift the blame for port congestion away from itself–the real culprit–in hopes that it could gain an advantage in the negotiations.
ILWU urged the PMA to acknowledge the “corrosive impact” that its deceitful media campaign was having on negotiations.
The union also said that ILWU members will continue to conduct rigorous safety reviews on truck chassis with which they work.
“Longshore work is extremely hazardous, with higher fatality rates than the work of firefighters or police officers, according to US Department of Labor figures,” said Craig Merrilees, ILWU spokesperson. “The ILWU has negotiated one of the best safety codes in the industry. The ILWU is committed to safety and will adhere to the ILWU-PMA Pacific Coast Marine Safety Code. The men and women of the ILWU will not make up for the current supply chain failures at the expense of life and limb.”