After months of seemingly amicable negotiations, labor and management in the West Coast dock talks are suddenly hurling charges at one another.
“The International Longshore & Warehouse Union has initiated orchestrated slowdowns at the Pacific Northwest ports of Seattle and Tacoma, severely impacting many of the largest terminals during the peak holiday shipping season,” the Pacific Maritime Association said Monday.
“PMA's media offensive is designed to smear the union and to deflect responsibility from a growing congestion problem that is plaguing major West Coast ports,” ILWU replied.
The PMA, which represents shipping lines and terminal operators in negotiations with longshore personnel, accused the union of breaking an agreement to maintain “normal operations” until a new contract could be concluded, replacing the one that expired July 1.
“Now, the ILWU has reneged on that agreement,” PMA spokesman Wade Gates said.
“This is a bold-faced lie,” ILWU replied. “No such agreement was ever made, nor could it be made given the parties' historic disagreement regarding the definition of ‘normal operations' – a disagreement that has been the subject of arbitrations for decades.”
“In Tacoma,” Gates said, “the ILWU is not filling orders for skilled workers, including straddle carrier operators who are critical to terminal operations.” The PMA spokesman said delays began Friday at Tacoma and spread to Seattle over the weekend. The two ports together handle about one sixth of all West Coast container traffic.
The alleged work slowdown in the Pacific Northwest comes at a time when there are major slowdowns at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach which are not blamed on the union. The problem, according to the Chicago-based Journal of Commerce, is a critical shortage of truck trailers on which to put containers, as well as a shortage of railcars for the same purpose.
Shipping line customers are worried. The American Apparel & Footwear Association on Monday afternoon called on the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission to press for a labor agreement, saying that almost half of all apparel and footwear sold in America passes through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Juanita Duggan, president of the association, said her members are running into two week delays or longer to get their goods from ships to trucks or railcars.
Matson, which operates from its own Los Angeles terminal, reports no effect on its operations yet.