Friday, February 13, 2015

West Coast Port Employers Suspend Vessel Operations and Hit Longshoremen in the Pocket

No Working Over Holiday Weekend Saves Paying All Round Fifty Percent Wage Hikes
Shipping News Feature

US – So it seems the two sides of the West Coast ports labour dispute are no closer to a deal after the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), representing employers at twenty nine West Coast ports shut the docks yesterday for four days out of the next five, much to the chagrin of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) which has criticised the move as a cynical tactic to put a financial strain on its members. The four day suspension coincides with ‘premium-pay’ weekend for holiday vessel operations, which command a pay hike of at least 50% compared to the basic longshore wage rate.

The days of the suspension are: Thursday 12 February (Lincoln's Birthday); Saturday 14 February; Sunday 15 February; and Monday 16 February (Washington' Birthday). Yard, rail and gate operations are expected to continue at terminal operators' discretion but the PMA said its members had concluded it makes no sense to pay high rates for full shifts of ILWU workers when productivity is severely diminished amid slowdowns during contract negotiations.

On hearing the news the ILWU called the PMA ‘a group of predominantly foreign-owned companies’ complaining at what is obviously a money saving tactic yet seeming oblivious to the fact that the recent slow-downs are seen in exactly the same light by the port managers. The ILWU also claimed that the PMA had cancelled ongoing negotiating sessions and had issued a press release giving an adulterated view of the union’s latest demands. The ILWU however did not point out what precisely these referred to merely saying the release, the main points of which were covered in our last article, grossly mischaracterised the ILWU’s current bargaining position.

Ports in Southern California are to extend day time vessel operations on non-holiday weekdays but with rates for weekend and holiday pay to longshoremen rising 50% to between $54 and $75 per hour, whilst foremen would receive between $77 and $92 the port managers obviously felt this was a premium not worth paying whilst throughput had slowed because of the dispute. According to the PMA During the 2008 – 2014 contract period, the four area arbitrators found the ILWU guilty of more than 200 slowdowns or work stoppages. PMA spokesman Wade Gates said:

“Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion. The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet, and continued slow-downs that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock. What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.

“The ILWU’s current slow-downs, now in their fourth month, show the very reason that we need a healthy arbitration system in place. It is essential to be able to prevent the crippling slow-downs that are impacting workers and businesses across the nation.”

The response to the PMA spokesman’s comments and the news that there would be no bonus weekend working was immediate with ILWU President Robert McEllrath saying:

“This is an effort by the employers to put economic pressure on our members and to gain leverage in contract talks. The Union is standing by ready to negotiate, as we have been for the past several days. It seems to us that the employers are trying to sabotage negotiations. They are not just hurting workers, families and communities, what our employers are doing is bad for the industry and the US economy.”