West Coast ports suspend operation amid union dispute

Terminal operators at 29 West Coast ports, including those in the Bay Area, said Friday that they will temporarily suspend some operations this weekend, alleging that ongoing union slowdowns have brought the ports almost to a standstill.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping companies that do business on the West Coast, issued a statement about the suspension late Friday morning in the midst of contract negotiations with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The workers’ previous contract expired on July 1 and contract talks have been in progress for nine months. The PMA said it will suspend ship loading and unloading on Saturday and Sunday but will allow yard, rail and gate operations to continue at the discretion of terminal management.

The business group said yard operations consist of processing containers for truck and rail delivery to customers. The PMA alleged that the ILWU:

“… continues to limit operations by withholding the needed crane operators or operating slowly.”

PMA spokesman Wade Gates said in the statement that:

“After three months of union slowdowns, it makes no sense to pay extra for less work, especially if there is no end in sight to the union’s actions, which needlessly brought West Coast ports to the brink of gridlock.”

ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said the PMA’s decision to temporarily suspend some operations at the ports:

“… is reckless and irresponsible and hurts workers, communities and business who need to have containers that come through the ports.”

Merrilees said the business group’s action:

“… compounds the shipping company-caused congestion crisis that plagued ports throughout 2014, long before the companies alleged that there was a worker slowdown. … Many of the larger companies who do business at the ports are foreign-owned and apparently are now engaging in a form of economic terrorism that is not likely to go over well in America.”

Merrilees said he believes the action by the shipping companies’ action is “a pressure tactic.”

Merrilees said the PMA made its announcement in the middle of negotiations at PMA headquarters in San Francisco today. He said the announcement was “shocking” to negotiators and a mediator who has been involved in the talks for the past month.

Merrilees said the negotiations will continue this weekend and next week “because the union is totally committed to trying to reach an agreement as soon as possible.” However, he said the temporary suspension “will leave thousands of people out of work this weekend.”