Union, Management Clash Over Port Slowdown

Port of Seattle

Management and labor groups who have been negotiating a new West Coast dockworkers’ contract traded accusations as the talks drag on for almost six months without an agreement.

The International Longshore & Warehouse Union and negotiators from the Pacific Maritime Association, on behalf of ports and terminal operators, engaged in the first public war of words since the contract negotiations began in early May.

Management took the first swipe, claiming that the union was deliberately slowing cargo handling in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, where about 15% of West Coast container cargo is processed.

Since the six-year dock labor contract expired July 1. There has been no extension since then, though management’s statement noted the parties agreed to maintain “normal operations” as talks continued.

“Now, the ILWU has reneged on that agreement,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates, who reported a 40% to 60% drop in productivity at the two ports.

“This is a bold-faced lie,” the union’s statement said. “No such agreement was ever made” because the parties disagree about what constitutes “normal operations.

Actions in Tacoma and Seattle mark the latest development in the ongoing freight slowdowns along the U.S. West Coast.

“The PMA’s media offensive is designed to smear the union and to deflect responsibility from a growing congestion problem,” the union’s statement said.

In Southern California, where there was no union slowdown reported, delays in cargo processing have been as much as 10 days as chassis supply headaches and the arrival of more ships depositing larger amounts of cargo have led to protracted slowdowns in recent months.

“We are calling upon the ILWU to cease its slowdowns and agree to a temporary contract extension while we negotiate a new contract,” Gates said, adding those steps “would give confidence to shippers and the general public.”