Monday, December 29, 2014

As 2014 Ends So Dispute Over Handling US Freight Containers Continues Into New Year

West Coast Row Runs Into its Eighth Month as Employers Turn to Outside Help
Shipping News Feature

US – Things traditionally slow down everywhere over the Christmas period and it seems the West Coast docks dispute negotiations, a labour confrontation which has plagued shippers with ocean freight containers arriving and departing at ports from San Diego to Seattle since the existing employment contract terms expired in July 2014, is likely to continue into the New Year at a similar leisurely pace.

There is no word from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) as to any progress in its talks with the employers, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) which puts the position of the twenty nine regional ports. Shortly before Christmas the PMA joined the clamour of voices requesting federal mediation, despite President Obama’s reluctance to become involved.

The PMA claims the ongoing impact of ILWU work slowdowns has disrupted cargo movement at the major West Coast ports of Tacoma, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach, a point hotly disputed by the ILWU which says it has been well documented that many other factors have caused the delays, particularly chassis shortage and dislocation; a shortage of rail cars nationwide; too few truck drivers, record retail import volumes (increases of 5.3% over 2013); container terminals pushed to storage capacities; and the peak shipping season in the run up to Christmas.

The PMA is unmoved by these arguments saying outside intervention is necessary to bring the talks to conclusion as the union’s continued actions are creating long term damage to the West Coast, hastening the continued loss in market share to ports on the US East and Gulf coasts. A Journal of Commerce survey quoted by the PMA calculated around 60% of shippers have already re-routed cargos for 2015 away from the US West Coast to avoid the problems, with many shippers saying their diversions will be permanent. PMA spokesman Wade Gates said:

“After seven months of negotiations, we remain far apart on many issues, at the same time the union continues its slowdowns, walk offs and other actions that are having impacts on shippers, truck drivers and other local workers with no end in sight. It is clear that the parties need outside assistance to bridge the substantial gap between us.

“We began negotiations seven months ago by underscoring everyone’s concerns about the West Coast loss of market share, which directly impacts local jobs and economies. We emphasised our commitment to good faith bargaining and the importance of ensuring that there were no disruptions or other actions that would cause shippers to lose confidence in the future of our ports. Unfortunately, the ILWU’s slowdowns are causing those concerns to grow, and it is clear we need outside intervention to allow us to reach consensus on the issues between us.”

Photo: Terminal One at Pier 400, Port of Los Angeles.