Update: ILWU & PMA- Ships Back Up at US West Coast Ports
After night shift workers stop working vessels
Ships are backing up rapidly at the major West Coast gateways following a decision by employers to stop working vessels at night in order to concentrate on clearing out congested marine terminal yards. The Marine Exchange of Southern California reported last week that 13 container ships were at anchor and awaiting berthing space in Los Angeles-Long Beach. Oakland reported that 7 container ships were at anchor and Tacoma also reported 7 container ships at anchor. Although the ports have had vessel backups since last fall, the numbers are now accelerating.
Congestion began to mount at West Coast ports last summer due to a spike in container volume, chassis shortages and dislocations, and service degradation on the intermodal rail networks. The knockout punch came at the end of October, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, when the International Longshore and Warehouse Union implemented a policy of work slowdowns and refusals to dispatch sufficient skilled labor to perform yard work in order to gain leverage in the ILWU-PMA contract negotiations.
Port executives say that most of the container terminals are now at 90 percent of capacity, or higher, which they say puts the terminals on the brink of gridlock. Unless containers can be removed from the yards, the facilities eventually will reach the point where they can no longer accept more containers from the vessels.
Therefore, employers toward the end of 2014 began to reduce the number of work crews, or gangs, assigned to unload vessels on the night shift. They gradually cut back on vessel work at night, and now all vessel work has stopped in Seattle-Tacoma, Oakland, and Los Angeles-Long Beach. Employers said this policy helps the terminals in two ways. With no containers coming off the ships at night, the terminals are able to devote all of their resources on the night shift to cleaning up the yards and making space for containers that will be discharged from the vessels the next morning.
According to the PMA, the ILWU for the past 10 weeks has refused to dispatch sufficient skilled labor to operate yard cranes. “This decision was not made lightly,” said PMA spokesman Steve Getzug. “The ILWU’s ongoing refusal to dispatch sufficient yard crane drivers, the very workers who can best clear congestion at Los Angeles-Long Beach, led to PMA’s decision to halt night vessel work. It is essential to deploy every available crane driver to relieve the crushing congestion on the docks,” he said.
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