Terminal operators at the U.S. West Coast ports are suspending loading and unloading of ships for four days, targeting ‘premium pays’ the longshore workers and clerks would get for the coming weekend and the holidays, the port employers’ representative Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) said in a statement.
Yard, gate and rail operations will continue at terminal operators’ discretion, and in Southern California, terminal operators will expand daytime vessel operations on non-holiday weekdays, according to the PMA.
The PMA members said they do not intend to pay 50% premium over the coming weekend and the holidays (Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, and Washington’s Birthday on February 16) while the productivity is ”severely diminished” and ”the backlog of cargo at West Coast ports grows.”
The PMA has on a number of occasions accused the workers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) of orchestrated work slowdowns during the ongoing contract talks.
“Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates. “The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet, and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock. What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.”
The ILWU pointed out that this action marks the second time in less than a week that employers have idled vessels, with the PMA stopping the operations at containerized ports on Sunday.
The ILWU says that employers have not made themselves available to negotiate since Friday of last week.
”This is an effort by the employers to put economic pressure on our members and to gain leverage in contract talks,” said ILWU President Robert McEllrath. ”The Union is standing by ready to negotiate, as we have been for the past several days.”
The stalled contract talks have prompted the National Retail Federation to call on the White House to intervene.
”The slowdowns need to end. The brinkmanship needs to stop. The ILWU and PMA are delaying cargo and merchandise in the short-term while harming the competitiveness of the West Coast ports in the long-term,” said the NRF Vice President for Supply Chain Jonathan Gold. ”It’s time for the White House to immediately engage in this critically-important economic priority and force the two sides to remain at the negotiating table until a deal is done. The time for monitoring has passed. The time for action has come.”
The NRF expects import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports to rise 10.1 percent this month over the same time, despite the ongoing congestion and shutdowns at the West Coast ports.
”With cargo volume growing as the economy continues to recover, the last thing we need is a port shutdown that would bring billions of dollars of economic activity to a halt,” Gold said.