Terminal Operator Wants Labor Laws Changed
Last year’s backlogs at West Coast ports have cleared up but the anger lingers among those who were hurt by the labor slowdown.
International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) recently issued a white paper calling for the U.S. Congress to amend the nation’s labor laws to prevent the recurrence of the labor slowdowns that caused cargo bottlenecks a few months ago.
“The current labor system at West Coast ports remains broken and must be fixed,” the paper declared.
At the root of the problem, according to ICTSI, is that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) holds a monopoly on labor at all 29 West Coast ports. “As the sole union representing employees responsible for loading and unloading cargo vessels on the West Coast, the ILWU holds tremendous power over our nation’s port system and can effectively bring the economy to a standstill,” the ICTSI paper said. “With every contract negotiation, the U.S. economy is effectively held hostage.”
Labor slowdowns, rather than general strikes, are the ILWU’s preferred tactic, according to ICTSI, because workers continue receiving full pay and benefits. “Slowdowns are effectively a way for the union to strike at little or no cost to itself,” said the paper.
In addtition, slowdowns are not considered unfair labor practices under federal labor law, thus providing no legal recourse for employers. “As a result,” thE white paper concluded, “the period between contracts has become especially contentious with ILWU slowdowns reducing labor productivity by 50 percent or more. West Coast ports are brought to a near halt, and the health of the economy is severely compromised.”
ICTSI’s solution to amend the National Labor Relations Act making it an unfair labor practice for labor organizations representing employees in the maritime industry to engage in slowdowns at any time. To ensure compliance, the National Labor Relations Board would be authorized to seek an order in federal court. In addition, parties injured by slowdowns would be permitted to file lawsuits in federal court for economic damages resulting from slowdowns.
Labor organizations found in violation could have their representational rights terminated, under the ICTSI proposal.
“These legislative changes will deter the future use of intentional production slowdowns and provide prompt and effective remedies to businesses that are harmed by related activities,” the ICTSI white paper argued.
The activity at the 29 West Coast ports accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the U.S. annual GDP, and 25 percent of the nation’s international trade. When operating at normal capacity, West Coast ports handle around 65 percent of all U.S. container imports.
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