Oakland, Seattle-Tacoma hit by ILWU job slowdowns as deal remains elusive
Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) last week engaged in job actions in Oakland and the Northwest Seaport Alliance of Seattle and Tacoma that slowed down cargo-handling operations and prevented some terminal operators from working night shifts, waterfront sources told JOC.com.
That comes as ILWU leadership and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) continue to negotiate a new contract almost three months after the prior deal expired on July 1. The moves are seen as a way for the union to flex its muscle to press the PMA for concessions.
Environmental protestors set up pickets last week at Terminal 5 in Seattle, demanding that machinists plug in vessels at berth and operate from shoreside power during vessel loading and unloading. The ILWU refused initially to cross the picket lines, citing health and safety reasons, but the pickets were later removed and the vessel was worked and departed the terminal.
T-5 is equipped to work vessels at berth from shoreside electrical power, but no vessels have been plugged in yet, according to a port spokesperson. T-5 for the past two years has been experiencing a jurisdictional dispute between the ILWU and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers over maintenance and repair work. The dispute is ongoing, although IAM machinists have been performing the M&R work without incident.
In Oakland, dockworkers last week started the day shift about 20 to 30 minutes late at Oakland International Container Terminal (OICT) and the TraPac and Everport terminals. According to waterfront sources, rather than showing up about 7:30 am to be ready to begin the shift at 8 am, which is the normal practice, ILWU dockworkers showed up at the gate at 8 am, delaying the start of the workday by about a half-hour.
Also in Oakland, ILWU equipment operators normally plan their breaks when their replacements are standing by to take over so there is no interruption in cargo handling. But last week, according to sources, the workers instead took “unit breaks,” which meant they all took their breaks at the same time, resulting in an interruption of cargo handling for the length of the break.
And ILWU Local 34 in Oakland last week was dispatching only about half of the normal marine clerks needed to work a shift, according to sources, so OICT was not able to work the night shift.
Collectively, the work slowdown tactics by the ILWU at the Oakland terminals resulted in a 25 percent reduction in productivity at the port, a source told JOC.com.
The sources also said that coastwide negotiations in San Francisco were not held after Tuesday of last week because the daughter of an ILWU negotiator was getting married — which employers viewed as an obvious delay tactic.
Neither the ILWU nor the PMA responded to emails from JOC.com seeking comment.
In Southern California, the ILWU over the past month had refused to work the automated portion of the APM terminal in Los Angeles, but work resumed there on Sept. 18, according to sources.
Negotiations between the ILWU and PMA began May 10, were suspended for 10 days in late May at the request of the union, and resumed on June 1.
Slowdowns during prior negotiations
In past negotiations, the ILWU has engaged in similar rolling slowdowns at terminals up and down the coast if negotiations continued into the fall.
The 2002 negotiations resulted in dockworker slowdowns and an employer lockout. The 2014 negotiations resulted in lengthy slowdowns, with talks continuing for 10 months until a tentative agreement was reached in February 2015. In both cases, West Coast ports experienced severe gridlock. The 2008 negotiations produced a settlement in the summer without any significant impact on cargo handling.
This year’s contract negotiations are being viewed differently than in past years because the Biden administration has maintained regular contact with both parties throughout the process as the White House does not want the US’ already stressed supply chain further disrupted by labor unrest on the West Coast.
Source: The Journal of Commerce online (JOC.com)
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