• ITVI.USA
    15,285.540
    -94.080
    -0.6%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.776
    -0.010
    -0.4%
  • OTRI.USA
    21.450
    -0.050
    -0.2%
  • OTVI.USA
    15,256.620
    -93.130
    -0.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    3.300
    -0.240
    -6.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    2.950
    -0.020
    -0.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.440
    0.000
    0%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.310
    0.060
    1.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.150
    0.020
    0.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    3.950
    -0.100
    -2.5%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    1.000
    0.8%
  • ITVI.USA
    15,285.540
    -94.080
    -0.6%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.776
    -0.010
    -0.4%
  • OTRI.USA
    21.450
    -0.050
    -0.2%
  • OTVI.USA
    15,256.620
    -93.130
    -0.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    3.300
    -0.240
    -6.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    2.950
    -0.020
    -0.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.440
    0.000
    0%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.310
    0.060
    1.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.150
    0.020
    0.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    3.950
    -0.100
    -2.5%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    1.000
    0.8%
American ShipperShippingWarehouse

PMA defends decision to limit number of workers unloading ships

ILWU says it may take between eight to 10 days to unload a ship because of limits on longshore hiring.

   Contract negotiations are expected to resume Monday between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and employers following the announcement last Friday by the Pacific Maritime Association that terminals in Long Beach and Los Angeles plan to limit the number of workers unloading ships in order to allow terminals to reduce the number of containers that are clogging their facilities.
   Wade Gates, a spokesman for the PMA, said his understanding was that contract talks were scheduled to resume Monday afternoon.
   Local 13 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents dockworkers in the two ports, said the PMA told it Friday “they would be reducing the number of workers that would be called to unload ships (by reducing to one from the usual three crews — ‘gangs’ — typically required) in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. This will exacerbate backup of container vessels.”
   A spokesman for Local 13, Adana Ortega, said the time needed to work a ship in the two ports could increase from about two and a half days to between eight and 10 days.
   “This will surely back up port traffic here in Long Beach and Los Angeles,” said Ortega.
   The PMA said congestion at the two Southern California ports “was made much worse by a unilateral decision made by the ILWU in early November” when the union began reducing the number of yard crane operators within terminals available for work. (These are the operators of cranes that move containers around within terminals and remove and load them onto chassis, not the ship-to-shore cranes used to load and unload vessels.)
   The PMA said that when terminal operators put in orders for yard crane operators, “the ILWU unilaterally cut back those orders by two-thirds.”
   Bobby Olvera, Jr., the president of Local 13, said the union members “want to work, we want to move the cargo because this is the lifeblood of the America, right here in the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach.”
   The ILWU called the actions by the PMA “malicious” on its website.
   Mayors of the two port cities issued a joint statement encouraging continued bargaining.
   “Negotiations resume Monday, and it’s in no one’s interest for either side to take further actions before then,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement quoted in the Daily Breeze newspaper.
   “The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach play a critical role in our regional and national economy, and so those at the table bear a responsibility that extends far beyond the waterfront. The prudent course of action is to keep people working and keep goods moving as negotiations continue,” the statement continued.
   The PMA said Friday, “The ILWU and PMA have used the same dispatch procedures for qualified crane drivers since 1999. Local 13’s dispatching of only ‘certified’ crane operators and withholding other qualified crane operators, using safety as an excuse, occurred abruptly when ILWU leadership embarked upon orchestrated slowdowns up and down the West Coast to influence stalled labor negotiations. This action is a key component of that strategy, the result of which has been to aggravate congested conditions at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.”
   The PMA continued, “Typically, such tactics are prohibited, but the parties have been working without a contract since the previous agreement expired July 1, 2014. PMA asked for a contract extension to preserve the longstanding arbitration procedure that rules such workplace infractions; the ILWU refused.”
   The PMA said it estimates “that since the ILWU took its unilateral action in Southern California, the average number of shifts for qualified crane operators has dropped from an average of more than 110 per day to under 35 per day, resulting in tens of thousands of containers available for discharge sitting on the docks at the twin ports.
   “The qualified yard crane drivers play a vital role by delivering and receiving container loads from truckers. By withholding them, the union has negatively impacted cargo-handling operations throughout Southern California. Union leaders have done this in an attempt to gain leverage on employers in the midst of contentious negotiations for a new coast-wide contract,” said the PMA, adding that “the Union’s work actions started at the end of October, when contract talks began to stall.”
   The PMA and union have been negotiating since May on a new contract for 20,000 ILWU members working in 29 ports on the West Coast.
   “We are not negotiating the contract here. That’s done in San Francisco,” said Ortega. “For them to take this unilateral action without any consultation and hold up the port traffic is something that just is not acceptable given how big a deal it has been in LA/Long Beach to alleviate this port congestion issue.”
   Wade Gates, a spokesman for the PMA, said the ILWU’s action in “removing qualified yard-crane drivers from terminal operations is the equivalent of a football coach sending out 10 players and no quarterback. You can’t run the play effectively. The congestion in the terminals is near a breaking point.”
   The PMA said, “To focus efforts on clearing containers from terminal yards and get them moving to their final destinations, PMA is reducing the number of workers ordered to unload ships on night shifts, thereby avoiding the prospect of creating gridlock that the additional unloading of ships would create.”
   Gates added that it doesn’t make sense to keep up the current pace of work because of the lack of room at the terminals.
   “If a parking lot were full, you would clear out empty spaces before bringing in more cars. The same rule applies here,” Gates said.
   The PMA said its labor orders for the day shifts and night shift yard and gate will remain unchanged.
   “It’s important to remember an essential principle of management. It’s not solely the number of longshoreman the union is making available that matters, it’s the type of workers themselves,” Gates said. “Without qualified yard-crane drivers who play a critical role in loading and offloading cargo containers from trucks, the congestion problem is made far worse at terminal yards.”
   Gates said ILWU leaders are focusing on a shortage of chassis as the cause of congestion, but said “they are only misdirecting the public away from the core issue that has taken a difficult situation and moved it to the brink, and that’s their decision to withhold critically important skilled workers from the terminals.”
   The impact of port congestion on the national economy was mentioned by the Institute for Supply Management which reported its PMI was 55.5 percent in December, down from 58.7 in November.
   It said several of its panelists mentioned the “negative impact on imported materials shipment due to the West Coast dock slowdown.”

Chris Dupin

Chris Dupin has written about trade and transportation and other business subjects for a variety of publications before joining American Shipper and Freightwaves.

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