Oakland Port Terminal Stalls in Labor Dispute After Settlement

Port of Oakland file photo.  Photo: Wikimedia commons
Port of Oakland file photo. Photo: Wikimedia commons

By James Nash

(Bloomberg) — The Port of Oakland, the fourth-busiest container port on the West Coast, partially shut down in a dispute between dockworkers and management, more than two weeks after the two sides struck a tentative contract deal.

The port’s international terminal suspended yard and gate operations after 12:35 p.m. local time Wednesday when dock employees refused to work in a dispute over staffing levels, according to an update on the port’s website.

The labor strife comes after the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers at 29 West Coast ports, reached a tentative contract Feb. 20. The ports handle more than 40 percent of U.S. imports, according to the association of shipping lines and terminal operators.

They have been working to reduce backlogs of ships and cargo that built up during the labor dispute. Three vessels awaited berths at Oakland on Wednesday, down from 18 on the weekend after the contract agreement, port spokesman Michael Zampa said. The reduced backlog reflects increased productivity at the docks, with more cargo coming off ships onto trucks and trains.

The busiest U.S. port complex, Los Angeles and Long Beach, also is digging out from congestion that built up during the labor dispute. As of this morning, 29 ships were waiting for berths in the harbor shared by the two ports, down five in one day, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

With the exception of Oakland, the West Coast ports have resumed normal operations since the agreement, which awaits approval from about 20,000 unionized dockworkers. Work was also disrupted in Oakland Feb. 22 after dockworkers orchestrated stoppages by taking their breaks at the same time, Maritime Association spokesman Steve Getzug said at the time.

Reached by telephone, Getzug said he had no information about events in Oakland Wednesday. Craig Merrilees, a union spokesman, said the dispute is limited in scope.

“This is a particular problem involving one employer at one port,” Merrilees said by telephone.

Zampa said the dispute affected only the international terminal, with the remainder of the port remaining open.

Copyright 2015 Bloomberg.