Shippers admit West Coast port congestion not workers’ fault

The following is from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union:

SAN FRANCISCO (Jan. 13, 2015) — In contract negotiations Monday afternoon, officials from the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) told a federal mediator and longshore negotiators that West Coast ports have reached a point where there is little space available for additional import containers arriving on the docks — and no space for export and empty containers returning to the docks.

The PMA made it clear in the negotiating session that they were not blaming union workers for the primary causes of the congestion crisis, explaining that the lack of space for returning empty and export containers was exacerbating the existing chassis shortage — because the export-bound containers are a key source of desperately needed chassis that have become the #1 choke-point, ever since shipping lines recently stopped providing a chassis for each container arriving to West Coast ports.

After explaining how the lack of dock space for containers and shortages of chassis were crippling the ports, the PMA announced an illogical plan to eliminate night-shifts at many ports. In addition to cutting shifts at major container ports, the PMA cutbacks would also apply to bulk and break-bulk operations — for no apparent reason other than as a cynical tactic to generate anxiety among workers.

The union has noted that cancelling night shifts and reducing bulk operations will do nothing to ease the congestion crisis. The PMA appears to be abusing public ports and putting the economy at risk in a self-serving attempt to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table, and create the appearance of a crisis in order to score points with politicians in Washington.

“Longshore workers are ready, willing and able to clear the backlog created by the industry’s poor decisions,” said ILWU President Bob McEllrath. “The employer is making nonsensical moves like cutting back on shifts at a critical time, creating gridlock in a cynical attempt to turn public opinion against workers. This creates an incendiary atmosphere during negotiations and does nothing to get us closer to an agreement.”

ALSO at The Stand — ILWU frustrated by shippers’ finger-pointing over port delays (Dec. 11, 2014) –“Are West Coast longshoremen spoiling Christmas?”

That Politico headline from earlier this week tells you all you need to know about commercial shippers’ efforts to wring concessions at the bargaining table from thousands of longshore workers in Washington, Oregon and California.

Citing competitive pressures in the shipping industry, huge multinational corporations already reaping enormous profits are focused on replacing family-wage International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) jobs with low-wage subcontractors or machines. But in their effort to accomplish this, the shippers have made some big decisions that have had disastrous consequences in terms of congestion problems and delays.

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