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Latest News - January 2015

January 2, 2015
New signs of labor strife at Southern California ports
By: Andrew Edwards

The prolonged labor negotiations between port operators and dockworkers became significantly more acrimonious Friday when both sides made accusations of bad-faith labor tactics, which no doubt will compound congestion already crippling the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Although neither side came out and said they were on the verge of declaring a strike or a lockout, the mayors of Los Angeles and Long Beach reacted quickly to the news by sending out a joint statement asking the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association, the latter of which represents port managers in labor talks, to avoid escalating the conflict.” Negotiations resume Monday and it’s in no one’s interest for either side to take further actions before then,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said in the statement

“The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach play a critical role in our regional and national economy, and so those at the table bear a responsibility that extends far beyond the waterfront. The prudent course of action is to keep people working and keep goods moving as negotiations continue,” the statement continued.  A work stoppage would be bad news for the economy. In November, the National Retail Federation, National Association of Manufacturers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated a work stoppage could drain $2 billion a day from the economy.

Longshore workers and West Coast port operators have been working without a contract since July. Although the two sides reached a tentative deal on health benefits in August, negotiations have stalled with the PMA becoming increasingly critical of union leaders since autumn. Port leaders ​​and trade groups asked Washington to mediate stalemated labor talks, affecting more than 20,000 West Coast workers, shortly before Christmas..

However, on Friday, the leaders of ILWU Local 13 called a press conference at the union’s dispatch hall in Wilmington, where dockworkers gather to find out if they have work. With Rep. Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, and Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, in attendance, union leaders declared the PMA made a unilateral decision to severely cut the number of workers who get night shift jobs at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The precise number of dockworkers needed on a given night varies, but ILWU Local 13 President Bobby Olvera Jr. said in a post-conference interview that demands for night shift workers at Los Angeles and Long Beach was down about two-thirds from normal levels, resulting in some 800 people not getting to work on the harbor.” Instead of using six cranes to unload a ship, they want to use one, which is ludicrous,” Olvera said.  He said the union learned of the PMA’s decision to cut labor requests on Wednesday and that this is the second time since October port operators have slimmed the workforce.

The PMA’s response was essentially the opposite of the union’s statement. The port operators’ group asserted the union has tried to hamstring port activities by withholding skilled yard crane operators from the harbor. The upshot, PMA Senior Vice President Steve Getzug said, is that port operators are unable to schedule the kinds of jobs that would require a fully staffed night shift to move shipping containers off dock facilities that are already crowded with the metal boxes.

“If a parking lot was full, you’d need to move the cars out before you add more cars,” Getzug said by way of analogy. “Otherwise, you’d have Rose Bowl parking.”  Yard crane operators are needed to load shipping containers onto truck chassis or rail cars, Getzug said.  Workers need special training to do that job, and the ILWU replied that a lack of trained crane operators is the real problem. ILWU Local 13 spokesman Adan Ortega said the shortage of crane operators is not the result of a labor strategy, but the PMA’s failure to train enough people to do the job.  Labor negotiations are set to resume Monday in San Francisco.



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