Work resumed at most West Coast ports on Monday, February 9 after the Pacific Maritime Association, an employers group of port terminal operators and shipping companies, closed the ports over the weekend in an attempt to gain leverage in the collective bargaining negotiations between PMA and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).
The closures increased “delays for customers needing containers,” said the ILWU in a statement released Monday morning. “The union remains focused on reaching a settlement as quickly as possible with employers. Talks to resolve the few remaining issues between the Longshore Union and Pacific Maritime Association are ongoing.”
The Port of Portland remained closed after ILWU Local 8 called a one-day unfair labor practices strike on Monday, February 9 to protest the actions of ICTSI, which operates Portland’s Terminal 6. Local 8 was protesting what it describes as unfair disciplinary action taken by ICTSI against Local 8 members.
The weekend lockout of ILWU members could, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, cost the national economy as much as $4.2 billion.
The lockout appeared to be a form of punishment against ILWU members, who PMA alleges have been engaged in a coordinated slowdown of work on the docks during contract negotiations.
According to ILWU President Robert McEllrath, PMA’s lockout was an unnecessary interruption to the bargaining process that is close to completion.
“What the employers need to do is stay at the negotiating table and work through a few remaining issues with the workers who have made them successful for the past 80 years,” said McEllrath. “We are very close to reaching an agreement.”
PMA’s lockout was the second time that PMA has cancelled work to pressure the union into making contract concessions.
In January, PMA stopped unloading ships during the night shift at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles because, according to PMA, the docks had become too congested with shipping containers that had not been moved because of the alleged ILWU slowdown.
The ILWU recently produced aerial photographs of the docks where the second shift was shut down. The photos appear to show little if any congestion on the docks.
Because PMA cancelled night shift work, there are a number of ships waiting just outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to be offloaded.
“PMA is leaving ships at sea and claiming there’s no space on the docks, but there are acres of asphalt just waiting for the containers of those ships and hundreds of longshore workers ready to unload them,” said McEllrath. “The employers are deliberately worsening the existing congestion crisis to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table.”
PMA’s weekend port shutdown seemed ill-timed given the fact that the two sides have reached a tentative agreement on one of the main issues that was preventing a successful conclusion to the contract negotiations.
The two sides announced at the end of January that they had reached a tentative agreement on who would handle the maintenance work on shipping container chassis, the trailers that transport shipping containers from the docks to warehouses.
Since shipping containers became the main means of storing goods shipped overseas, ILWU members have performed maintenance on the chassis.
Jurisdiction over that work came into dispute when the shipping companies that until recently owned the chassis sold them to third-party contractors.
The ILWU has maintained that chassis work belongs to ILWU members.
The sale of the chassis to third-party contractors appears to be one of the main reasons that there has been a delay in offloading of ships on the West Coast.
The third-party contractors have failed to keep the chassis in good repair and have been unable to provide an adequate number of chassis to transport goods.
The resolution of this issue led observers to believe that the path was clear for an agreement to be reached.
But PMA’s weekend lockout and some public statements made by PMA CEO James McKenna suggests that PMA may not be interested in reaching a fair agreement with the union.
Among other things, McKenna in his public statement suggested that ILWU members are overpaid and should be willing to accept the terms of new agreement dictated by the PMA.
“What the ILWU heard yesterday is a man (McKenna) who makes $1 million a year telling the working class that we have more than our share,” said McEllrath. “Intensifying the rhetoric at this stage of bargaining when we are just a few issues away from reaching an agreement is totally unnecessary and unproductive.”
Negotiations between the two sides was supposed to resume on Monday, February 9, but the bargaining session was postponed until Wednesday.