Pacific Shippers Say Dockworker Slowdown Hits Seattle, Tacoma

Photo courtesy Port of Tacoma
Photo courtesy Port of Tacoma

By James Nash

Nov. 3 (Bloomberg) — Pacific Coast dockworkers negotiating a new labor agreement have begun a work slowdown in Seattle and Tacoma, management said, in the first large job action since their contract expired in July.

The slowdown by members of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union reduced container movement to 10 to 18 per hour from 25 to 35, the Pacific Maritime Association said today in a statement. The two ports handle an estimated 16 percent of containerized cargo on the West Coast, according to the association representing terminal operators and shipping lines.

The 20,000-member longshore union has been negotiating with the association since May on a new contract to replace a six- year pact that expired July 1. Union spokesman Craig Merrilees had no immediate comment when reached by telephone at the organization’s San Francisco headquarters.

“In Tacoma, the ILWU is not filling orders for skilled workers, including straddle carrier operators who are critical to terminal operations,” Wade Gates, a spokesman for the maritime association, said in the statement. “This is like sending out a football team without the receivers or running backs. You can’t run the plays without them.”

At the Port of Tacoma, most terminals “are still open, but they are experiencing backups,” spokeswoman Tara Mattina said in a statement. Port of Seattle spokesman Peter McGraw referred questions to the maritime association’s statement and declined further comment.

The talks involve 29 ports from San Diego to Bellingham, Washington, which together handle almost half of all U.S. maritime trade.

The two sides announced a provisional deal on health-care expenses in late August, without disclosing terms. Another issue is how to retrain and preserve jobs for dockworkers as automation reduces the number of positions, as well as salaries and work rules.

–With assistance from Peter Robison in Seattle.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.