ILWU calls for direct talks with ocean carriers in contract negotiations
The longshore union says the ‘few issues that remain unresolved relate directly to the carriers.’
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union said Monday it wants carrier representatives sitting on the board of the Pacific Maritime Association “to come to the negotiating table so that direct and constructive dialogue between key decision makers can take place.”
Robert McEllrath, the ILWU president and chairman of the union’s negotiating committee, said, “The few issues that remain unresolved relate directly to the carriers, and these key carriers need to come to the table.
“Both sides need the right people in the room to get things finalized,” he continued. “Sure, my counterpart, Jim McKenna [the president of the PMA and the chief negotiator for management] has been involved in negotiations from the start, but all the decisions are made by the carriers sitting on PMA’s board of directors.”
There are 11 members of PMA’s board of directors, and the union said most are carrier executives who are also chief officers of the largest terminals. The ILWU said none of them “have had any direct participation in negotiations since the parties began bargaining in May. PMA’s principal decision makers have not yet, in seven months of bargaining, had a single face-to-face meeting with union negotiators. In contrast, the union has its principal decision makers, a member-elected negotiating committee comprised of local union representatives, and international officers at the bargaining table,” the union said.
McEllrath said, “Indirect negotiations won’t get us over the finish line.”
Last week, the PMA called for a federal mediator to get involved in the contract talks, which began in May. The union said, “We are in the process of considering whether or not mediation would be productive.” It added that “the ILWU is always open to using productive tools and ideas in obtaining a fair agreement.”
The last contract between the PMA and ILWU expired on July 1. About 20,000 workers are covered by the contract.
Last week, the PMA said, “Statements and rumors that our negotiations are ‘close’ to a final contract are not true.
Even after seven months of negotiations, we remain far apart on several issues, and the union slowdowns continue to disrupt the movement of cargo through the ports. Business is being lost, and we are concerned that the damage is permanent, and shippers will be fearful to put their trust in the West Coast ports going forward.”
The ILWU countered that the problems at the West Coast ports are not its fault, but have been caused by carriers.
“West Coast ports have been plagued all year with a carrier-caused congestion crisis that has frustrated customers and made work on the docks much more dangerous and difficult,” the union said. “The congestion crisis began prior to the start of contract negotiations and well before PMA began using the ILWU slowdown allegations to deflect criticism from its member carriers.
“Despite efforts to blame the ILWU, industry experts agree that the West Coast port congestion problem resulted from a number of industry-based decisions and mistakes, including, but not limited to:
- Carriers ceasing to provide chassis to move containers off the terminals.
- Carriers outsourcing their chassis pools to remote locations causing bottlenecks.
- Terminal operators hoarding limited chassis at the expense of competing terminal operators.
- Shippers and consignees using containers on chassis as mobile storage units — thus exasperating the chassis shortage.
- Carriers building new mega-ships with 14,000-plus containers that overwhelm terminal capacity and capability.
- Carriers increasingly entering noncompetitive alliances with each other and squeezing terminal operators and port authorities.
- Terminal operators and stevedores squeezing labor on traditionally negotiated jurisdiction in response to pressure from carriers.
- Truck driver shortages because the industry forces a piecemeal wage model.
- Tight intermodal rail capacity brought about from the political push of energy trains into an already squeezed rail infrastructure.”
The union claimed that last week PMA members in the ports of Seattle and Tacoma “compounded congestion problems by refusing to use critical night shifts for import/export cargo in an apparent effort to provoke an even deeper congestion crisis that they hoped to blame on the ILWU. By refusing to order manpower for night shifts, PMA unilaterally and self-servingly restricted work to eight hours a day at the peril of both importers and local exporters. At the same time, PMA member terminal operators in the container ports of Portland, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach continued to work night shifts.”
McEllrath said, “The men and women who work the docks up and down the West Coast can’t fix the current supply chain failures, and industry experts know it. The irony of PMA’s slowdown allegation is that, in addition to dishonestly blaming workers for current congestion problems, it obscures the fact that PMA member companies are working behind the scenes to trigger labor disputes in order to cut labor costs and consolidate more control over workers on the docks. We’ve seen all this before. Our singular focus, at this moment, is getting a good contract for the members of the ILWU. I think we’re almost there.”