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Shipping dawdling at US ports as employer group, union in sixth months of talks

Shipping dawdling at US ports as employer group, union in sixth months of talks

WASHINGTON: Prolonging dialogues between International Longshore and Warehouse Union caused the container movement to reduce to 40% to 60% according to The Pacific Maritime Association. However, the union says that it is caused by the mismanagement of the ports authorities.   

The war of words comes as the employer group and the union is in the sixth month of negotiating a new contract covering 13,600 workers at 29 ports. Seattle and Tacoma handle about 16% of containerized cargo on the West Coast.

Whatever caused the problems in Washington, they had begun to affect produce exports. A potato grower told the Agriculture Transportation Coalition shipments in the first week of November might be cut from a planned 50 containers to just three to five.

The grower, unnamed by the trade group, anticipated a “labor lockout” in Tacoma that could spread to Seattle and Portland.

The prior contract expired July 1, after which normal operations continued during talks.

“Now, the ILWU has reneged on that agreement,” Pacific Maritime Association spokesman Wade Gates said in a news release, referring to the continued operations. The slowdown, he said, began at select terminals in Tacoma Oct. 31, and over the weekend expanded there and spread to Seattle.

The union denied there was such a provisional agreement, and called for negotiations to resume Nov. 5. In Tacoma and Seattle as movement dropped through the weekend, employers began sending workers home mid-shift Nov. 2.

“In Tacoma, the ILWU is not filling orders for skilled workers, including straddle carrier operators who are critical to terminal operations,” Gates said. “This is like sending out a football team without the receivers or running backs. You can’t run the plays without them.”

The union fired back, raising issues affecting West Coast ports beyond Washington.

“Congestion at key ports is the result of three factors — some of which is from employer mismanagement, according to industry experts,” ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said in a news release.

Changes to the ports’ business model, he said, were preventing on-time delivery of chassis systems at West Coast ports, notably in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif. Other factors, according to Merrilees, were shortages of truck drivers and rail car capacity