Shipping lines, terminals halt weekend loading, unloading at West Coast ports

In a move that takes the three-month-old West Coast shipping slowdown closer to a full lockout, shipping lines and terminal operators said Friday they will halt weekend loading and unloading of containerships.

The group of employers, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association, had earlier this year halted nighttime loading and unloading activities at West Coast docks, saying the container terminals were facing gridlock.

The contract between the PMA and the International Longshore Workers Union expired July 1, but the two sides had been working under the former contract rules until Oct. 31 when work abruptly slowed down on the docks. The PMA blamed the union for the slowdown; the union said the work problems were the cumulative result of bad terminal management, a shortage of truck trailers to transport containers and the influx of larger ships calling on the West Coast.

The PMA, which earlier this week warned of an impending gridlock on the docks, said it no longer wanted to pay workers for operating at a less-than-normal pace.

“In light of ongoing union slowdowns up and down the coast which have brought the ports almost to a standstill, PMA member companies finally have concluded that they will no longer continue to pay workers premium pay for diminished productivity,” the PMA said in a prepared statement.

“After three months of union slowdowns, it makes no sense to pay extra for less work,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates, “especially if there is no end in sight to the union’s actions which needlessly brought West Coast ports to the brink of gridlock.”

The union claims the two sides have been making good progress in mediated talks. Shutting down more operations, said the union, will only exacerbate conditions on the waterfront.

Businesses have complained they are losing sales and customers because their import and export goods are languishing on containerships anchored in bays along the West Coast and in container yards. In Commencement Bay Friday, two large containerships were riding at anchor awaiting space at terminals.