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  February 11th, 2015 | Written by

PMA Announces Suspension of Terminal Operations at West Coast Ports

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The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) said this afternoon that its member ocean carriers and terminal operators will suspend U.S. West Coast vessel operations on four of the next five days, “rather than provide longshoremen with holiday or weekend pay for severely diminished productivity.”

Last week, the San Francisco-headquartered, 70-member maritime industry group made what PMA spokesman Wade Gates called “a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion.”

Negotiators for the 20,000-plus member International Longshore and Warehouse Union, he said, “responded with demands they knew we could not meet, and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock. What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.”

The management group has accused dockworkers of conducting slowdowns, walk-offs and other actions at key West Coast ports to exacerbate congested conditions and disrupt cargo movement in an effort to influence ongoing contract negotiations.

Speaking with Global Trade, ILWU Communications director Craig Merrilees called the move by the PMA, which impacts 29 ports from Seattle to San Diego, “shocking … bizarre and unbelievable.”

“This is an effort by the employers to put economic pressure on our members and to gain leverage in contract talks,” ILWU President Robert McEllrath said in a prepared statement, adding that “the union is standing by ready to negotiate, as we have been for the past several days.”

Calling the PMA’s representation of the ILWU’s bargaining position “grossly mischaracterized,” McEllrath suggested that the employers are trying to sabotage negotiations. “They are not just hurting workers, families and communities,” said McEllrath, “what our employers are doing is bad for the industry and the U.S. economy.” He added for emphasis that the cessation of vessel operations “was initiated by employers, and is not a strike by workers.”

“The continued intransigence by labor and management to reach a new contract is unacceptable,” National Retail Federation’s Jonathan Gold said in response to the PMA’s announcement. “Retailers and the rest of the supply chain are frustrated beyond belief.” The slowdowns, he continued, “need to end and the brinkmanship needs to stop. … The ILWU and PMA are delaying cargo and merchandise in the short-term while harming the competitiveness of the West Coast ports in the long-term. This stalemate is hurting American businesses, their employees and consumers.

“If the ILWU and PMA are serious about reaching a new labor contract, they need to remain at the table,” said Gold. “It’s time for the White House to immediately engage in this critically important economic priority and force the two sides to remain at the negotiating table until a deal is done. The time for monitoring has passed. The time for action has come.”