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FILE PHOTO: The sun sets behind container cranes at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 14, 2021. REUTERS/David Swanson/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: The sun sets behind container cranes at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 14, 2021. REUTERS/David Swanson/File Photo

Tensions Boil Over In West Coast Labor Talks

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 9124
June 2, 2023

The International Longshore Workers’ Union’s local union in Southern California has issued a statement today slamming the actions of foreign ocean carriers and marine terminal operators amid ongoing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement for unionized labor at West Coast ports.

The Pacific Maritime Association, representing ocean carriers and terminals operators in the negotiations, hit back on Twitter, accusing the ILWU of “concerted” work action that has disrupted operations at multiple ports from Southern California to Washington.

The back and forth comes about a month and a half after the ILWU expressed optimism on reaching a tentative agreement with the PMA. However, the PMA at the time maintained that several key issues still remained unresolved.

ILWU Local 13 represents about 12,000 workers in Southern California. In today’s statement, it slammed foreign ocean carriers and terminal operators for “thumbing their noses” at workers’ basic requests related to health and safety. The statement did not elaborate on the exact details of the dispute.

ILWU Local 13 recalled the profit windfall that ocean carriers and terminals operators made during the pandemic, coming “at a large personal cost to these Longshore workers and their families”. The ILWU also noted that at least 43 ILWU members lost their lives to COVID-19.

“Despite this enormous profit and the record-breaking cargo volumes that the labor force moved through Southern California ports during that time, ocean carriers and terminal operators have thumbed their noses at the workforce’s basic request, insinuating that the health risks and loss of lives these people endured during the pandemic did not matter to them and they were expendable in the name of profits. The workforce’s requests are not outlandish; they are basic requests that will ensure the workforce is treated with dignity and respect that they have fought so hard to earn.”

The collective bargaining agreement being negotiated by the ILWU and PMA covers more than 22,000 longshore workers at 29 U.S. West Coast ports. Talks began on May 10, 2022, after the previous agreement expired on July 1, 2022. The ILWU and PMA meet regularly in San Francisco to continue negotiating and both have remained committed to reaching an agreement.

The PMA responded to the ILWU accusing the union of staging “concerted and disruptive” work actions that have effectively shut down operations at some terminals in Los Angeles and Long Beach and impacted operations as far north as Seattle.

“Today, the ILWU is staging concerted and disruptive work actions that have effectively shut down operations at some marine terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,” the PMA tweeted. “The Union is also staging similar work actions that have shut down or severely impacted terminal operations at the Ports of Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, and Hueneme.”

However, the statement from the ILWU said its rank-and-file members in Southern California have taken it upon themselves to “voice their displeasure” with ocean carriers and terminal operators, but longshore workers remain on the job and cargo operations at ports continues.

Mario Cordero, Executive Director at the Port of Long Beach, assured that container terminals at the port remain open.

“All container terminals at the Port of Long Beach remain open. As we monitor terminal activity, we urge the PMA and ILWU to continue negotiating in good faith toward a fair agreement,” Cordero said. “The national economy relies on an outcome that keeps goods moving through the San Pedro Bay ports, the most important gateway for trans-Pacific trade. We are optimistic our waterfront workforce and their employers will resolve their differences quickly.”

Late Friday afternoon, ILWU issued a statement reiterating that the union remains committed to negotiating a “fair and equitable” agreement.

“Any reports that negotiations have broken down are false,” said International President Willie Adams, “We are getting there but it’s important to understand that West Coast dockworkers kept the economy going during the pandemic and lost their lives doing so. We aren’t going to settle for an economic package that doesn’t recognize the heroic efforts and personal sacrifices of the ILWU workforce that lifted the shipping industry to record profits.”

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