Main table negotiations are scheduled to resume Tuesday (Dec. 2) between the Longshore union and a group representing West Coast terminal operators and shipping lines while work on the docks remains slower than normal.
Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina said the slower pace of loading and unloading container ships continued Monday with only slight improvements over the pace that has become the norm in the past month.
That slowdown began Oct. 31 after the International Longshore Workers Union and the Pacific Maritime Association concluded an unfruitful negotiating session designed to reach agreement on a new long-term contract between the union and the employers. The two sides had been negotiating since May. The prior contract expired July 1. Union members had been working under the terms of the former agreement by an informal understanding.
Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the union, said the employers are unfairly scapegoating the union as the source of the lowered productivity. Merrilees said container handling worldwide has encountered major problems as a result of several factors including the shipping lines’ use of larger ships at terminals not designed for their huge capacity, the shortage of chassis on which to load those containers, and a lack of drivers to to move the containers to their final destinations.
The PMA has contended that the union members are deliberately cutting productivity as a tactic to cut back container traffic during the critical holiday season and to put pressure on employers to agree to more favorable terms.
Retailers and manufacturers, fruit, potato and Christmas tree growers have complained the lack of timely shipping activity is affecting their business and ruining sales and production because of the lack of imported goods and access to foreign markets.
Merrilees said that progress has been made at the subcommittee level of negotiations during the recess from main table negotiations. The results of that more focused negotiation process will likely soon migrate to the larger talks for further discuss and possible agreement, he said.