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Nov. 16th, 2014

US West Coast waterfront employers say ILWU slowdowns continue


The International Longshore and Warehouse Union is still slowing down cargo-handling operations at all major West Coast Coast gateways while negotiations for a new contract continue in San Francisco, the Pacific Maritime Association said Monday.


“The slowdowns are continuing up and down the coast. ILWU continues to withhold skilled labor at LA-Long Beach, moves are still off in the Pacific Northwest and Oakland is about 30 percent below norms on crane moves,” PMA said Monday.


Employers have been saying for the past several weeks that the ILWU slowdowns did not cause the congestion at West Coast ports, but the job actions contribute to the overall congestion problem and vessel bunching that has plagued the ports for weeks now.


In Los Angeles-Long Beach, for example, the Marine Exchange said eight container ships were at anchor Monday afternoon waiting to berth. That was up from seven earlier Monday, but down from 12 at the peak of vessel delays two weeks ago. Cargo volumes should trail off in the coming weeks as the peak-season comes to an end, and that should give terminals a chance to get their container yards in order before the next big seasonal spike in January.


The ILWU has been working without a contract since the previous agreement expired on July 1. Cargo-handling productivity was not affected for four months, and the PMA and ILWU issued occasional joint releases saying that both sides were negotiating in good faith.


Suddenly, at the end of October, crane productivity plummeted in Seattle and Tacoma. The ILWU began filling only about 50 percent of the orders for skilled workers in Los Angeles-Long Beach, and longshoremen began work slowdowns in Oakland as well, PMA reported. Those conditions have persisted for more than two weeks now, according to the PMA.


Reports from the individual ports confirm what PMA has said. “We’re still experiencing the same issues,” Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina said Monday. Four vessels were sitting at anchor on Monday, which continued the trend that has been present the past two weeks. On the other hand, employers are keeping workers on the job for the entire shift, she said. When the slowdowns began two weeks ago, employers would dismiss longshoremen after two hours because they were working so slowly.


Contract negotiations continued in San Francisco through the weekend. Both sides met again on Monday.


Meanwhile, the ports are showing no signs of getting ahead of the congestion problem. Truck turn times are getting longer, especially in Los Angeles-Long Beach. Val Noronha, president of Digital Geographic Research, records truck turn times via GPS tracking, and he said delays hit a new low in October, with 36 percent of all truck visits to the harbor taking two hours or longer.


With the Black Friday launch of the holiday shopping season only 10 days away, importers report delays of several days to as much as two weeks in receiving their shipments.


Exporters are also suffering financially. “Christmas trees are not being exported and will miss the holiday season in Asia completely. Potatoes are not being exported and the cargo will likely be a total loss for the farmers whose entire year is dependent upon current shipments. Foreign customers are already canceling orders and turning to other countries to satisfy their needs,” the Agriculture Transportation Coalition said Monday in a press release.  




Nov. 16th, 2014

Dozens of vessels heading to US West Coast ports face dock congestion


West Coast ports are preparing for a busy weekend, with dozens of vessels scheduled to arrive over the next three days. Since work slowdowns by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union continue to compromise productivity at marine terminals, some of the arriving vessels will have to go to anchor rather than proceeding directly to berth.


Meanwhile, a Teamsters-affiliated organization, Justice for Port Truckers, reported that a trucker strike initiated Thursday by some drivers against two drayage companies continued into Friday. Spokeswoman Barb Maynard said drivers were picketing at seven marine terminals and two truck yards. The ports reported that  longshoremen reported to their jobs and the protestors did not interfere with cargo-handling on Friday.


Los Angeles-Long Beach has the most vessel calls on the coast, and vessel bunching is expected to resume this weekend. The Marine Exchange of Southern California reported Friday that six containerships were at anchor. That was three fewer than on Thursday, and down from 12 late last week.


However, 20 container vessels are due to arrive over the three-day period that began on Friday. Nine of those ships are scheduled to go to anchor, and 11 are due to berth.


For the third time this past week, the Pacific Maritime Association on Thursday issued a press release charging that the ILWU was intentionally shorting employers of skilled labor needed to operate cargo-handling machines in the yards, and PMA said this was contributing significantly to port congestion.


PMA said the job actions by the ILWU are intended to gain leverage in coastwide contract negotiations that have been underway since May. The ILWU has been working without a contract since July 1, and therefore the contract’s grievance procedure is suspended. The grievance machinery allows both parties to request the assistance of an arbitrator to immediately address waterfront disputes.  


The ILWU responded with statements indicating that a number of well-documented factors are contributing to port congestion, including a shortage of chassis and a truck capacity crunch, but the union denied that there was an orchestrated effort underway to gain leverage in the negotiations through work slowdowns.


Harbor truckers, whose earning power is crippled by work slowdowns at the marine terminals because drivers are paid by the trip, reported that the night shift on Thursday in Los Angeles-Long Beach was brutal. Frustrated drivers reported to company dispatchers that longshoremen in the yards would deliver a container to a trucker, and then sit idle for 30 minutes before servicing the next driver. PMA could not confirm that such activities were taking place.


Harbor truckers are especially incensed by ILWU work slowdowns because drivers need at least two round trips per day to break even. Companies are reporting that the average round trips per driver have dropped below two since ILWU work slowdowns began. Truckers note that they are losing money, but the longshoremen continue to earn full pay while working slowly. According to the PMA’s annual report, Class “A” longshoremen who worked 2,000 or more hours last year had average earnings of $137,253, and marine clerks’ average earnings for 2,000 or more hours was $154,842.


Man-hours worked in Los Angeles-Long Beach are soaring this year as congested terminals result in extra handling of containers within the yards. According to the PMA website, man-hours paid to longshoremen in Los Angeles-Long Beach in October were running 40 percent higher than in October 2013, even though the container volume handled has been running only about 6-8 percent higher.


The Pacific Northwest ports have also been hit hard by ILWU work slowdowns. PMA reported that beginning on Oct. 31, crane productivity in Seattle-Tacoma was down about 50 percent. Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina said container moves per hour have been edging higher, and Friday’s productivity was better than Thursday’s, but “still not what it should be.”


She said vessel arrivals were also being affected, with some ships anchoring north of Tacoma, others slow-steaming to port, and some ships that were scheduled to call Tacoma first on the rotation being sent to Seattle or Vancouver, Canada, before circling back to Tacoma. Six container ships are scheduled to arrive at Tacoma’s international terminals through Monday, Mattina said.


Oakland last weekend was hit for three straight shifts over a dispute involving the dismissal of workers. However, port spokesman Mike Zampa said cargo-handling on Friday was relatively normal. Vessels calling in Oakland were able to proceed directly to berth, he said.


The inability or refusal of the ILWU in Southern California to fill all labor requests was also affecting productivity. The day-shift dispatch report for Friday showed that 20 longshore jobs went unfilled. Also troubling is the fact that an increasing amount of part-time, or casual labor is needed to fill jobs. Friday’s report showed that 59.5 percent of the longshore positions and 49.7 percent of the marine clerk jobs were filled by the less-experienced casual labor. Since they lack the training and experience of registered longshoremen, casuals generally are not as productive as the more experienced workers.


PMA  on Thursday issued a statement urging the ILWU to extend its previous contract while contract negotiations continue so any claims of health, safety or work-slowdown issues made by either party can be addressed by the local arbitrators in a timely fashion. The ILWU does not appear ready to extend the contract.


ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said a contract extension would only relieve PMA of a sense of urgency in completing negotiations for a new agreement. “The last thing employers need is more excuses to delay beyond much of the six months that they have already wasted. It’s time to stop the stalling, finish the contract and get to work on the industry-created congestion problems that are choking the ports,” he said.




Nov. 17th, 2014

Teamsters expand trucker protests at LA-LB ports



A Teamsters-affiliated organization on Monday expanded its week-long protests at Los Angeles-Long Beach against three drayage companies, by targeting three additional ones. The drivers are picketing six marine terminals as well as the yards of the three new targets. The drivers are protesting alleged wage theft and misclassification of their status as independent contractors.


Spokesmen for the ports said cargo-handling was proceeding normally despite the picketing truckers. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has been working without a contract since the previous coastwide contract expired on July 1, but the longshoremen continue to report to their jobs each day despite the presence of the protestors.


The expanded trucker protests compound existing problems at the largest port complex in the Americas. The ports since late summer have been struggling with severe congestion tied to a myriad of factors including stronger-than-expected cargo volumes, chassis shortages, a truck capacity crunch and rail car shortages.


Also, the Pacific Maritime Association is alleging that the ILWU, in an effort to pressure employers during the contract negotiations, is engaging in go-slow tactics and refusing to provide enough skilled heavy equipment operators for cargo-handling work in the container yards. The PMA said these tactics are making terminal congestion worse and contributing to vessels backing up at anchor in the harbor.


The ILWU has denied those charges, saying port congestion is caused by at least a dozen operational issues that arose since ocean carriers began deploying mega-ships in their trans-Pacific services calling at the Southern California port complex.


Justice for Port Truckers, which is allied with the Teamsters, last week resumed its protests against TTSI, Green Fleet Systems and Pac-9 harbor drayage companies after telling a meeting of the Los Angeles Harbor Commission that the port and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti had failed to follow through on promises they made in July to address the alleged wage theft and misclassification. The mayor convinced the trucking companies in July to agree to a cooling-off period. Garcetti last week went back into confidential discussion with the trucking companies, and late last week announced that another cooling-off arrangement had been reached with  TTSI and Pac-9.


However, Justice for Port Truckers on Monday announced that the strikes were being expanded to include three additional drayage companies, QTS Inc., LACA Express and WinWin Logistics. The Teamsters have scheduled a rally at noon Pacific time to announce its next steps. Invited speakers include local political leaders, a rabbi, a Methodist minister and community organizers.


The driver strikes this year have involved some, but not all of the drivers at the targeted companies. Some drivers prefer to remain independent contractors. Striking drivers want to be organized by the Teamsters, but they must first be declared to be company employees because independent contractors, by law, can not be unionized.


The Teamsters have sponsored several strikes by drivers this year, but the handful of companies represent just a small percentage of the more than 100 drayage companies that haul containers in the harbor. While truck capacity in Southern California has been strained by the heavy cargo volumes and relentless port congestion, the trucker strikes have not had a significant impact on capacity.


Some marine terminals, in order to avoid issues, have reportedly told the trucking companies that are being struck not to send their trucks to their facilities.




Jan. 20th, 2015

Big increase in number of trade groups urging ILWU-PMA resolution


A growing number of trade associations that have signed their names to a series of letters calling for a resolution to West Coast longshore talks points to the widening economic impact of port delays that have now lasted for months.


The latest letter to the head of the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, issued on Friday, lists 175 associations that said their thousands of collective members “desperately need this negotiation to be concluded and operations returned to normal levels of through-put.”


The letter is the sixth issued by a coalition of importers and exporters since last May urging the parties to remain at the negotiating table and avoid disruptions to port operations. Yet as the months have gone by with no resolution to the negotiations, which began on May 12, and as disruption tied directly to the negotiations has grown more severe, the number of signatories to the letters has steadily grown.


The first letter on May 9 (urging the parties to conclude an agreement by the expiration of the previous contract on June 30th), was signed by 67 associations. By Oct. 20, the letter (which complained of “no visible progress in the negotiations”), had 104 associations. By Dec. 31 the letter (which noted “significant congestion at the ports which is impacting both imports and exports”) had 167 signatories, and on Friday’s letter the number had climbed to 175.


Among the signatories are: the American Soybean Association, the American Trucking Associations, the Association of American Railroads, the Beer Institute, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, the Kansas Livestock Association, the Institute of Makers of Explosives, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the Retail Council of Canada and the Retail Industry Leaders Association. 


“The growing number of associations represents the growing concern among the business community about the impact that the ongoing contract negotiations and congestion is having on all stakeholders who rely on the ports to move their commerce,” Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, who has helped organize the letters. “More and more companies, both large and small, are feeling the impacts from the congestion at the ports. This is impacting their businesses, the jobs who rely on those businesses and their consumers, both here and abroad.”


Despite the presence of a federal mediator who entered the negotiations on Jan. 5 at the request of both the ILWU and PMA, the talks have only further deteriorated, with mutual accusations, persistent delays at U.S. West Coast ports, and diversions to ports in Canada and on the East Coast like Oakland and Prince Rupert. Higher spot container rates from China to the U.S. East Coast was one indication of the continuing diversions.


According to the letter released on Friday, “Sales of American exports remain clouded in uncertainty across Asia and our overseas competitors eagerly highlight the problems at West Coast ports as a reason not to purchase American made or grown products.


“Manufacturers in the Midwest have had to slow and even stop production lines due to delays in receiving containers from the West Coast that hold critical inputs. Retailers are now seeing delays of early spring merchandise including products for Valentine’s Day and Easter. Supply chains across all of our industry sectors have already been adversely impacted due to events far beyond our control over the past several months. It is a black eye for the broader economy”


Gold said: “It’s time for the parties to work with the mediator to resolve their differences on the contract and return port operations to normal levels so the congestion can be cleared and we can begin to work on real solutions to the congestion issues facing the ports.”

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