Shippers blame union for latest port slowdown

A group representing shipping companies Wednesday blamed the shutdown of a terminal at the Port of Oakland on work stoppages by union members conducted despite a tentative contract agreement reached last month that was intended to resolve months of labor disputes.

The port’s international container terminal stopped its yard and gate operations sometime during the lunch hour, Port of Oakland spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur confirmed today. The port’s other four terminals operated normally, she said.

The Pacific Maritime Association this evening said the shut down was due to actions by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, which shippers say has objected to staffing levels on yard cranes and the use of longshore utility workers to lock and unlock connecting devices.

Both of these issues were raised during contract talks but later dropped by the union, according to the PMA. Union officials have not returned calls requesting comment Wednesday evening.

The Port of Oakland was one of 29 West Coast ports affected by prolonged labor contract negotiations between the union and shippers. The stalled talks left workers without a contract after July 1, 2014 and triggered multiple shutdowns at the Port of Oakland, resulting in a backlog of cargo and ships waiting to be unloaded at ports up and down the West Coast.

Key issues in the talks included the method for selecting arbitrators. A tentative five-year contract agreement was reached on Feb. 20 following the intervention of a federal mediator and U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. However, that contract has yet to be approved by union members.

This is not the first time the PMA has made allegations of an illegal work stoppage by the union since the tentative agreement was reached. On Feb. 22 the association said in a statement that an arbitrator had found the union had conducted an illegal work stoppage that day, causing port operations to be shut down.

The association “will continue to address any future work stoppages by Local 10 through the grievance and arbitration process, and, if necessary, in court,” the statement said. At the peak of the slowdown in mid-February there were 20 ships waiting at the Port of Oakland, officials said.

While the port is still experiencing cargo backup stemming from the contract dispute earlier this year, today there were only four ships waiting to berth, according to Sandifur.