LOS ANGELES, Feb 6 (Reuters) – Cargo freighter loading and unloading operations will be suspended at U.S. West Coast Ports this weekend due to continuing chronic slowdowns that shippers and terminal operators have blamed on the dockworkers’ union, the companies’ representative said on Friday.
However, the Pacific Maritime Association said terminal yard, rail and gate operations at the ports, which handle nearly half of U.S. maritime trade and more than 70 percent of imports from Asia, would go on at the discretion of terminal operators through the weekend, the group said.
“In light of ongoing union slowdowns up and down the coast which have brought the ports almost to a standstill, PMA member companies finally have concluded that they will no longer continue to pay workers premium pay for diminished productivity,” the association said in a brief statement.
It said vessel loading and unloading operations were scheduled to resume on Monday, Feb. 9, while yard operations – moving unloaded cargo containers for truck and rail delivery to customers – would continue at terminal operators discretion.
Announcement of the weekend suspension came two days after the chief labor negotiator for the companies at the 29 West Coast ports warned that waterfronts that have been plagued by severe cargo congestion in recent months were nearing the point of complete gridlock.
The companies have repeatedly accused the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 20,000 dockworkers, of deliberating orchestrating work slowdowns at the ports to gain leverage in contract negotiations that have dragged on for nine months
The union denies this and faulted the carriers themselves for the congestion, citing numerous changes in shipping practices as contributing factors.
The union also has downplayed the magnitude of the congestion, suggesting that management was exaggerating a crisis as a late-hour negotiation ploy. (Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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