Monday, April 6, 2015

Container Freight Moving More Freely as Union Looks to Ratify Dock Contract

Vote to be Held on New Labour Terms as Shipping Levels Return to Normal
Shipping News Feature

US – Despite some congestion this week as several container handling terminals saw closures in honour of the Memorial Day for the late labour activist Cesar Chavez, things along the West Coast following the lengthy dock workers dispute seem to have now returned to something approaching normality with freight moving more freely. Now comes news from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) that it is to recommend to its members formal acceptance of the ‘tentative agreement’ contract terms agreed on February 20 between the union and employers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

This latest contract covers the employment of 20,000 or so dock workers at the 29 West Coast ports for the next five years and all ninety delegates to the Union’s Coast Longshore Caucus spent last week reviewing the proposed agreement line by line, before voting by 78% to recommend the proposal on Friday. The matter is now passed to all ILWU members for review and discussion at union meetings before the final secret ballot membership ratification vote which will be tallied on May 22. ILWU International President Bob McEllrath observed:

“This agreement required ten months of negotiations, the longest in recent history but we secured a tentative agreement to maintain good jobs for dockworkers, families and communities from San Diego to Bellingham. Longshore men and women on the docks will now have the final and most important say in the process.”

Evidence of how things have drastically improved since industrial relations returned to normality can be judged by the latest statistics produced by the Port of Oakland. There are no vessels in San Francisco Bay or outside the Golden Gate awaiting berths, the first time since January that ships have been able to berth with no delay. Up to last month as many as twenty vessels were laid up awaiting a berth.

The nine month long impasse caused by industrial action meant ports from Seattle to San Diego have had to cope with a backlog of ships and cargo whereas now most vessels turn round in two days of arrival at Oakland, which reports freight is being released from import boxes almost immediately upon arrival. The situation is however not so bright at some severely congested Southern California ports, specifically Long Beach and Los Angeles, with up to ten ships awaiting berths, a log jam which may still throw arrival schedules into disarray as vessels are released to continue to other ports.