Contentious Negotiations Continue Between PMA, Longshore and Warehouse Union as Operations Approach Complete Gridlock

Negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) have become even more heated this week with both parties blaming the other for resorting to economically detrimental tactics in an effort to gain the upper hand.

The PMA published a news release on Monday, January 12, stating that after more than two months of slowdowns staged by the ILWU, terminal operations are approaching complete gridlock, meaning there is little space available for additional import containers to arrive on the docs, as well as no space for export and empty containers returning to the docks.

The release blamed ILWU workers for crippling fully productive terminals in the Pacific Northwest and Oakland since October 2014, which has, in turn, exacerbated the difficult congestion issue current at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The news release reads, “The ILWU’s action in Southern California goes against 15 years of precedent and targets precisely the skilled workers who are most essential to clearing congested terminals. By withholding an average of 75 yard crane drivers each day, the ILWU has stalled the movement of tens of thousands of containers, PMA estimates. Since November 3, the Union has reduced these yard crane operator positions in Southern California by 67 percent.”

The PMA also wrote that after the recent involvement of a federal mediator, no further agreements have been reached and work slowdowns due to the ongoing negotiations have left many terminals at the brink of gridlock. The PMA also wrote that ILWU members are among the highest paid union workers in America and are still receiving full wages and benefits while productivity at the West Coast port terminals slow down.

“The PMA has a sense of urgency to resolve these contract talks and get our ports moving again,” said PMA spokesperson Steve Getzug in a statement. “Unfortunately, it appears the Union’s motivation is to continue slowdowns in an attempt to gain leverage in the bargaining. The ILWU slowdowns and the resulting operational environment are no longer sustainable.”

The ILWU published a release Tuesday morning, January 13 in response to the PMA’s claims, saying that during contract negotiations that afternoon, the PMA made it clear that they were not blaming union workers primarily for the causes of the congestion crisis, yet the PMA suggested the elimination of night-shifts at many ports, as well as cutbacks to bulk and break-bulk operations.

The union noted that such a move would be an illogical setback and would do nothing to ease the West Coast congestion. The ILWU wrote that such a suggestion was made by the PMA “for no apparent reason other than as a cynical tactic to generate anxiety among workers.”

The PMA apparently admitted during negotiations that managerial mistakes regarding lack of space for returning empty and export containers are worsening the existing chassis shortage, not the previously remarked slowdowns caused by dockworkers.

Despite the PMA rescinding some of the blame, the ILWU wrote, “The PMA appears to be abusing public ports and putting the economy at risk in a self-serving attempt to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table, and create the appearance of a crisis in order to score points with politicians in Washington.”

“Longshore workers are ready, willing and able to clear the backlog created by the industry’s poor decisions,” said ILWU President Bob McEllrath in a statement. “The employer is making nonsensical moves like cutting back on shifts at a critical time, creating gridlock in a cynical attempt to turn public opinion against workers. This creates an incendiary atmosphere during negotiations and does nothing to get us closer to an agreement.”

According to the PMA, tentative agreements have been reached on health care and increases to pay guarantees. The agreements provides fully employer-paid health care benefits valued at $35,000 per worker annually. According to the PMA news release, “PMA has also proposed pay increases and pension enhancements. There are no takeaways in the PMA proposal.”

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