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Angry rhetoric in West Coast dockside labor negotiations intensifies

Both PMA and ILWU launch media offensive

As contract negotiations resume today between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), a war of words and allegations has escalated in the trade press.

In a statement released this morning, the ILWU said the PMA “dishonestly” accuses the union of breaking a spoken agreement that port operations would continue under the auspices of a temporary contract extension.

According to ILWU spokesman, Craig Merrilees, the union has bargained in good faith despite “pressure tactics” imposed by the PMA over the past six months.

These include the shifting of ocean container chassis away from union crews, and refusing to bargain a training program for longshore workers as terminals become more mechanized.

“Today’s unilateral media blitz by PMA will only delay progress at a critical point in the contract negotiations,” said Merrilees. “Delays at the negotiating table are also reflected in the growing congestion problem at Major West Coast ports.

Major U.S. exporters seem sympathetic to this perspective, noting that a variety of other factors are contributing to the choke points.

“There are many and complex components to the current crisis,” said Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transport Coalition (AgTC).

He noted that the Introduction of mega vessels and the resulting “container dumps,’ are a contributing factor.

“Ships are now carrying 3 times the containers they carried just 5 to 8 years ago, which means fewer port calls, but much greater volumes of containers being delivered at one time, onto terminals not built to handle such volume,” he said.

Friedmann also made the following observations:

· Conversion from the traditional carrier ownership/operations of chassis has created massive confusion and lack of access to chassis. Many feel this chassis transition is the primary cause of supply chain disruption and marine terminals congestion.
· Trucking Hours of Service rules reducing driver hours, and unworkable safety-rating rules are creating shortages of truck drivers, who can no longer haul enough cargo during each shift, to make a living.
· Truck weight limits and the lack of “heavyweight corridors” to some of our largest ports necessitating more trucks.

At the same time, the AgTC is protesting the practice of terminal operators imposing a “dysfunctional and inequitable” PierPass charge on many shipments entering the gates during the day, and causes major truck back-up’s at certain times in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“Furthermore, terminal operators are imposing detention/demurrage penalties for keeping containers on the dock for 4 days, when the terminal knows that the container will not be located and ready for a trucker to pick up within that time,” said Friedmann.

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About the Author

Patrick Burnson's avatar
Patrick Burnson
Mr. Burnson is a widely-published writer and editor specializing in international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He is based in San Francisco, where he provides a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts.
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