Oakland port shut down for Union meeting

Vessel activity at the Port of Oakland is suspended again Thursday for the seventh time this month, port officials said.

Union members with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have taken the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift off Thursday to attend a monthly union meeting, according to Port of Oakland officials.

While such meetings are common practice, they typically happen at night, port officials said.

Dockworkers would normally work 24 hours a day, but the meetings cause less disruption when held during the slower night shifts, according to port officials.

However, terminal operators suspended night shifts in mid-January.

In addition to stopping night work, the Pacific Maritime Association, a management group representing shippers to 29 West Coast ports, suspended work six times earlier this month because shippers did not want to pay higher holiday and weekend pay during a work slowdown by union members.

Union officials have called the allegations of an organized slowdown exaggerated.

Negotiations for a new ILWU contract at the 29 ports including the Port of Oakland have been ongoing for nine months.

This week, U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez arrived in the Bay Area to help move negotiations along.

While there are no disputes over pay and benefits, one of the last sticking points in approving a new contract is proposed changes in the appointments of arbitrators.

Arbitrators are currently appointed for life, but union officials have said they are seeking the power for either management or labor to dismiss arbitrators after each contract period, typically six years.

The PMA has characterized the demand as the union seeking the power to fire arbitrators who make decisions they disagree with.

The ongoing work disruptions have caused cargo backups throughout the West Coast, risking gridlock if ports do not resume working at full capacity soon.