ILWU chief warns union will not tolerate fatigue-producing shifts
James Spinosa, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), offered ideas in a press conference Thursday 'to break the jam and get the cargo moving' in the seriously congested ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Spinosa's suggestions followed a warning to the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which hires port workers, that the ILWU would not accept rising on-the-job hazards.
The PMA should hire more casual workers (called 'casuals' by the ILWU) and move their training 'to the wee hours of the morning when there is equipment available for them to learn on,' Spinosa said.
Also helpful would be the use of container gangs, 'in which an entire team of workers is dispatched to a terminal the night before as a unit. Since members of the gang work together every day, they are more productive than gangs made up of people dispatched as individuals,' he said.
Spinosa also suggested that ports move to 24-hour gates to expedite the flow of containers. Congestion could also be relieved by setting up staging areas where truckers would pick up and drop off containers. 'Longshore drivers would move containers inside the yard,' he said.
'There's no question that the shipping industry on the West Coast is in a crisis, with dozens of ships backed up at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Diverting ships to other West Coast ports has not relieved the problem in southern California, but only spread it to those other docks,' Spinosa said in a statement.
'It's not as if this wasn't foreseen. Manufacturing jobs have been sent to Asia in search of cheap labor and, since little is made here any more, all those goods must be shipped in. China's monster economy continues to export at an accelerating rate, and Wal-Mart's Asian-made Christmas goods could by themselves overwhelm just about any port,' Spinosa said.
'As the railroads restricted the numbers of containers they would accept from each terminal and the docks backed up, container yards had to switch from 'wheeled' operations, where containers are stored on chassis and are ready to roll, to 'decked' operations, where containers are stacked three, four and five high,' he said.
'Decked operations require six times more skilled cargo-handling equipment operators to run top picks, side picks and strads (straddle carriers). The employers' solution has been to ask workers to double back, to work two shifts back-to-back. But fatigue is a major factor in accidents. And the congested docks with containers stacked high and more heavy equipment running around are raising the risks of an already dangerous job,' Spinosa said.
'The last time we saw a situation this bad was in 2002 when we had a record five deaths in five months. We are not going to pay the price again to save employers from their own bad decision-making, especially since we warned them well in advance,' he noted.