West Coast Ports Shut Down In Lieu Of Labor Dispute

Starting today, the 29 West coast ports will undergo a partial shutdown in the latest chess move between union workers and the ports.

SF Gate is reporting that the partial shutdown will not affect items already in port, but trailers that are awaiting docking in port waters. The shutdown will run from Thursday, Lincoln’s Birthday, to Monday, President’s Day.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines and terminal operators, has refused to pay overtime for holiday or weekend work. The association is claiming the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is intentionally slowing down work in an effort to gain a foot hold in the ongoing contract talks. The two sides have been without an agreement since July of 2014.

Wade Gates, Association spokesman, said “What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.”

The association also stopped vessel loading and unloading, adding to the already-increasing tension between the two sides.

Work delays such as these have hindered small business owners and Bay Area importers for the past three months, as their trucks wait for cargo ships do be unloaded so their cargo can be put onto trucks and delivered to numerous warehouses.

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that this latest slowdown is adding to the other slowdowns and starting to cause huge issues for both the association and for the union. Though this doesn’t portend any possible closures for any ports, but the two sides have not held talks about a new contract since Friday, and dockworkers are increasingly fearful of a lockout.

Union President Robert McEllrath said the Association canceled talks Wednesday and accused the shipping companies of curtailing port work “to put economic pressure on our members.” The negotiations have dragged on for nine months. The latest word is, however, that both sides have returned to the negotiation table to resume contract talks today.

Due to the man-made congestion, alternates means, such as rerouting parts and items via airlines have been used, but are much more expensive. Rerouting shipments through eastern ports are just as expensive.

The Los Angeles and Long Beach ports handle roughly 40 percent of total shipments, which account for almost $400 billion worth of goods.

Negotiations are less about pay raises than about safety. The average dockworker makes between $26 to $41 per hour. However, with the amount of supply coming in, workers are constantly faced with crowded and overstocked working areas, which can be dangerous. Many people consider dockworking far more dangerous than police work or firefighting work.

The final sticking point between the Association and the union is the use of arbitrators. Arbitrators are used to settle disputes when a contract is in place. As of now, to remove an arbitrator, both sides must agree to have that arbitrator removed. The union would like to change that to a unilateral decision, either side having the ability.The Association is against such a measure, for they feel that the union would dismiss any arbitrator that previously ruled against the union. The Association feels this would allow the unions to further slow down work on the dock.

[Image courtesy of patch.com]