Contentious Negotiations Continue Between PMA and ILWU; Union Accused of Causing Illegal Slowdowns

On the re-opening of the 29 West Coast harbors, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) released a statement Monday saying that the Union is still trying to negotiate with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). 

“West Coast ports re-opened Monday morning after employers closed the docks for two days, increasing delays for customers needing containers. The union remains focused on reaching a settlement as quickly as possible with employers. Talks to resolve the few remaining issues between the Longshore Union and Pacific Maritime Association are ongoing,” said Craig Merrilees, ILWU spokesman, in a statement. Merrilees called the weekend work stoppage “shocking,” considering that the two sides are still negotiating.

According to City News Service (CNS), about 20 ships were waiting outside the twin ports over the weekend; resumed work this morning brought that number down to 16 ships.

However, the PMA published a release Monday detailing the current stalled negotiations, explaining “the ILWU’s demand to be able to fire any arbitrator who rules against the Union.” According to CNS, labor negotiations are to resume Wednesday

Currently, according to the release, an arbitrator can only be fired upon the agreement of both parties. The ILWU is bargaining to change this arrangement so that either party could potentially remove an arbitrator at the end of any contract. PMA objects to this demand to “damage the system that has protected the waterfront for decades.”

“The ILWU is essentially seeking the right to fire judges who rule against them,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates in a statement. “The waterfront arbitration system is an essential check-and-balance against illegal labor actions. It would be reckless to allow a single party to change the rules as the Union desires.”

If a contract is in place, disputes between parties are brought before one of four arbitrators who are tasked with overseeing different regions. According to the PMA, waterfront arbitrators rule quickly so that disagreements can be addressed without disrupting port operations. Because the Union did not sign a contract extension, the arbitration system has not been upheld during negotiations. According to the release, the extended contract has a no-strike clause which is heavily relied upon in these instances.

In the same release, the PMA also accused the ILWU of causing over 200 illegal slowdowns during the 2008-2014 contract period. The PMA said the same arbitrators who have ruled against the ILWU during that period are the ones being targeted.

According to CNS, ILWU officials called the PMA’s accusations “totally inaccurate” and said that it is “irresponsible for them to make these (kinds) of misleading statements.” Union officials blamed the slowdowns on the employers’ inability to train enough qualified employees for the job.

Long Beach port spokesman Lee Peterson said in a statement that port officials are urging a resolution to the labor dispute and are “concerned we're going to lose business,”' with some customers believed to be traveling to Gulf Coast ports and harbors in Canada, according to CNS.



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