Port of Tacoma

Port cargo slowdown continues despite new talks

The slowdown of container traffic across West Coast docks entered its third month this week without any signs that the two sides in the dispute, the International Longshore Workers Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, were moving closer to detente.

The PMA, which represents waterfront employers at 29 West Coast ports, accused the union of failing to provide essential skilled workers needed to move cargo containers to and from the ships at port terminals. The union in Tacoma contends it is furnishing full crews. The ILWU blamed the continued slowdown on the PMA’s decision to cancel night shifts by port workers.

Meanwhile, the Journal of Commerce reported that the Pacific Northwest’s largest railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, has told shippers it will no longer accept containers destined for West Coast docks. The railroad said the container terminals have no room to handle new export containers until productivity resumes its normal pace.

In Tacoma’s Commencement Bay, three container ships lay at anchor Monday awaiting room at port terminals. Under normal conditions, those ships immediately proceed to port terminals for unloading and loading.

Wade Gates, PMA spokesman, said that particularly in the West Coast’s two largest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, the longshore union “has led a sustained campaign” to withhold “critically important, skilled longshore workers from their shifts on the docks.”

Craig Merrilees, a union spokesman, said the shortage of yard crane operators is the result of employers failing to properly train the longshore workers.

“The shortage of yard crane operators is a consequence of PMA’s refusal — before the commencement of negotiations — to adequately train,” the union spokesman said. “The PMA regulary rejected the union’s overtures for such training and also refused to register new workers to perform critical UTR and basic work. PMA’s pre-negotiation position has caught up with them logistically and now serves to partially contribute to the institutional congestion problems being experienced in Los Angeles and Long Beach.”

The PMA has canceled night shifts, saying that it wants to focus on getting cargo moved in the daytime.

The employers have asked the president to appoint a federal mediator, but the Obama administration has yet to move forward on that request.

Manufacturers, food processors and farmers all are complaining that the slowdown is cutting their sales to foreign customers, keeping them from completing goods manufactured with foreign parts and shifting customers to other suppliers.

The two sides were negotiating again Monday in San Francisco, where both the PMA and the ILWU have headquarters, after a holiday break.