A resolution to the long-running contract dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) looked further away than ever yesterday (Thursday) as 29 US West Coast ports suspended cargo operations and the two sides released sharply contradicting accounts of events.
The ports will be fully operational today (Friday) but suspended again on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, which is a US national holiday. PMA members concluded that, on those dates, they would be paying increased holiday rates to full shifts of ILWU workers despite severely diminished productivity, while the backlog of cargo at West Coast ports grows.
PMA spokesperson 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.”
After nine months of contract talks, the PMA said it had made a 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.
ILWU president Robert Mcellrath disputed this in a video featured below, claiming that he and his negotiators had been waiting for five days for PMA negotiators to arrive and that they had not shown up yet. He said on Wednesday: “Supposedly, they will show up tommorow [Thursday] at 1PM. We will see.”
He continued: “We want to go to work and they [the PMA] are blaming us. There’s cargo to be delivered and we are here to do it. You’ve heard that they are not going to order vessel gangs for Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. This is part of their tactics to divide us and nobody divides the ILWU.”
Mcellrath continued to say “there is space on the docks to unload vessels” and his union published pictures, featured above, of empty yard space. These pictures, which were taken on February 6, were labelled: “Aerial photos of ports show what the PMA doesn’t want the public to see.”
This was partially in response to pictures circulating on social media, uploaded on February 10, purporting to be of around a dozen ships waiting off the coast of the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and of truck congestion at the port.
This all comes after recent ILWU work slowdowns have proved costly, halting the movement of billions of dollars of goods with no long-term solution identified.
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.
The PMA’s Gates said, on the long-term situation: “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.