Ship loading and unloading at Puget Sound’s two largest ports halted again Tuesday in labor dispute

Container handling ground to a halt again at the ports of Tacoma and Seattle for the third consecutive day Tuesday as longshore union workers and terminal operators took their battle for a new contract to the docks.

Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina said ship loading and unloading at the port was stalled at the port when terminal operators sent longshore crews home for the day.

Wade Gates, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, said terminal operators sent the longshore work gangs home because of poor productivity. The PMA represents terminal operators and shipping lines in negotiations for a new West Coast contract with the International Longshore Workers Union.

The PMA contends the ILWU has been engaged in a work slowdown since Friday when hourly productivity dropped by as much as 60 percent on the two Puget Sound ports’ docks. The union contends the slower pace was the result of mismanagement and the shortage of truck chassis and rail cars to carry cargo containers to their final destinations.

At the Port of Tacoma Tuesday morning, as many as 60 semi-trucks bringing containers to the port were queued up on Port of Tacoma Road and East 11th Street waiting to enter port terminals.

The labor dispute has halted movement of containers, many of them containing holiday goods, to Midwest and East Coast cities for display in retail stores.

Though the results are nearly the same, the situation at the ports is not a formal strike or a lockout. The prior contract between the PMA and the ILWU expired July 1, and the two sides had an informal agreement to keep work going on the docks under the old agreement terms.

The two sides have been negotiating for six months trying to craft a new long-term contract, but thus far have not reached an agreement.

The two parties were scheduled to meet later this week in San Francisco in a further negotiating session.