The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) has accused the local ILWU union of carrying out “illegal work actions” that have disrupted operations at the nation’s busiest port complex, marking the latest sign that West Coast labor talks have turned sour.
PMA represents 70 ocean carriers and terminal operators at the 29 West Coast Ports. In its latest statement, PMA blamed ILWU Local 13 union for using “new tactics” to slow the start of operations at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and force crucial cargo handling equipment to be taken out of operation at several key terminals. PMA did not clarify the level of disruption or which terminals were affected.
Last Thursday night and Friday, most cargo operations at port of Los Angeles and Long Beach terminals were stopped due to a labor shortage, which PMA blames on the union withholding workers intentionally. Now, PMA accuses the union of refusing to cooperate on labor dispatch and unilaterally delaying the standard dispatch process jointly administered by PMA and the ILWU.
“Together, these illegal work actions have disrupted activities at some of the largest and most active terminals in the United States, which play critical role in the movement of cargo to and from markets throughout the nation,” PMA said.
The statement from PMA is the latest sign of growing tensions in the private negotiations between PMA and ILWU for a new collective bargaining agreement covering more than 22,000 West Coast port workers.
The negotiations have been ongoing since May 2022, two months ahead of the expiration of the previous contract. Meanwhile, U.S. ports have seen a significant reduction in the amount of inbound cargo and number of empty containers being shipped back to Asia, resulting in dramatically lower volumes compared to the first half of last year when negotiations began.
The uncertainty surrounding the negotiations has led to cargo being diverted to U.S. East and Gulf Coast ports, which have been able to hold onto more of their gains from the pandemic import surge.
Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said on Wednesday he believes a negotiated labor agreement is “crucial” to regaining shipper confidence and bringing cargo back to the West Coast.
PMA’s latest statement says latest work action also comes about a month after that the ILWU union in Southern California stopped complying with a contract provision over staggered meal shifts so that cargo operations could continue without stopping.
PMA warns that any actions that undermine confidence in West Coast ports threaten to further accelerate the diversion of cargo to East and Gulf Coast ports.
“Cargo diversion place is quality jobs at risk far beyond the docks, including truck drivers, warehouse workers, and thousands of others who is livelihoods depend on ongoing operations at the port,” it said.
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