Shipping slowdown eases up on Tacoma waterfront

Shipping containers were moving quicker on the Tacoma and Seattle waterfronts Monday after the Longshore union and a group representing terminal operators and shipping lines negotiated over the weekend on a new contract.

Those negotiating sessions followed more than a week of slowed work at Puget Sound container shipping terminals when longshore crews allegedly cut the pace of loading and unloading ships by as much as 60 percent.

The International Longshore Workers Union, which represents longshore workers on the West Coast, and the Pacific Maritime Association which negotiates for terminal operators and shipping lines, had been talking off and on for six months about a new long-term contract.

The speed of work at Tacoma’s terminals was not yet up to what the terminal operators considered normal, but it had improved from the prior week’s. Terminal operators had sent longshore gangs home last week when productivity lagged. This week, as the work pace improved, they called in more longshore work gangs to work on the backlog of jobs, said Tara Mattina, a Port of Tacoma spokeswoman.

The slowdown had caused a nationwide coalition of retailers and manufacturers dependent on imported goods to write President Obama last week to urge him to ask the two sides to settle their issues or to order work to return to normal during a cooling off period if necessary.

The two sides reported late in the summer that they had reached a tentative understanding on the health care issues involved in the new contract, but other major issues remain to be worked out.

Those include wages, other benefits and the effects of automation on longshore work.

Though the waterfront situation has brightened, several major Tacoma marine terminals were not accepting export cargoes except refrigerated goods Monday. Those terminals said they would halt acceptance of refrigerated cargo when they ran out of storage spots equipped with electrical connections to keep the refrigeration units on those containers operating.

Most major terminals also reported they had exhausted their supply of empty truck chassis on which to load imported containers. Those terminals were accepting trucks returning empty chassis to the waterfront.