Twenty nine ports on the US West Coast are expected to temporarily suspend cargo operations today (Thursday 12 February) and on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, according to the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).
The decision comes after recent International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) work slowdowns have proved costly, halting the movement of billions of dollars of goods with no long-term solution identified.
PMA members will temporarily suspend premium-pay weekend and holiday vessel operations. PMA members have concluded that, on those dates, they would be paying full shifts of ILWU workers despite the severely diminished productivity while the backlog of cargo at West Coast ports grows.
Due to the suspensions, South California terminals will expand daytime vessel operations on non-holiday weekdays; meanwhile PMA yard, gate and rail operations will continue on the four specified dates at terminal operator’s discretion.
PMA spokesman Wade Gates, said: “Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion. The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock”.
“The ILWU’s current slowdowns, now in their fourth month, show the very reason that we need a healthy arbitration system in place, it is essential to be able to prevent the crippling slowdowns that are impacting workers and businesses,” he added.
Cargo is struggling to cross the docks amid historically bad levels of congestion, which employers blame on longshoremen staging work slowdowns; dockworkers deny the claims. The response from PMA comes just one day after Hanjin, the Port of Portland’s largest shipper, announced it would be leaving the port.
Last week, after nine months of contract talks, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer that would raise ILWU wages by 14% over five-years, on top of current average full-time wages of $147,000 per year.
Update: The ILWU has released a message from its President Robert Mcellrath, claiming that the PMA had not shown up for negotiating talks and urging workers “not to listen to PMA’s bullshit”.