Dockworkers protesting the slow processing of medical claims picketed a terminal at the Port of Oakland Wednesday, one day after a similar action interrupted cargo handling at a terminal in Tacoma.
A spokesman for the Port of Oakland said two vessels were delayed Wednesday for 10 to 12 hours, but were expected to depart at night.
In both Oakland and Tacoma, arbitrators chosen jointly by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association ruled the ILWU actions did not constitute bona fide picket lines, and the dockworkers removed the pickets.
Longshoremen said they took to picketing to force the PMA, which represents West Coast waterfront employers, to pressure the administrator of the union’s insurance program to process medical claims more efficiently.
The medical claims issue has been bubbling under the surface of PMA-ILWU relations for months. The union’s health care plan is jointly administered by PMA and ILWU trustees.
According to spokespersons for the union and the ILWU, the previous plan administrator, Cigna, was relieved of its contract because of poor performance. The ILWU and the PMA each proposed a replacement company, and when they couldn’t agree on the issue, it was settled through arbitration.
The current medical plan administrator, Zenith American Solutions, took over on Jan. 1, 2013. The union and the PMA said Zenith faced a large backlog of claims that were left over by Cigna, which resulted in delays in processing new claims.
“These delays are due, in part, to more than 100,000 unprocessed claims left over from the prior administrator,” PMA stated in a release.
“Furthermore, many claims have been denied or delayed because of medical providers misrouting claims and failing to submit claims that meet standard medical coding practices. Finally, the administrator has reported a greater than 50 percent increase in the number of claims received each week,” the PMA stated.
The PMA and ILWU trustees said Zenith has been working to clear the caseload, and in April, call center wait times had dropped to less than five minutes. The PMA also noted that ILWU members and retirees and their dependents receive full employer-paid health care and pay no premiums.
A spokesman for the ILWU said union members are tired of the delays. “Zenith’s incompetence and mismanagement so far is a bad sign. Things will have to get better in a hurry because members, pensioners and ILWU officers are out of patience and tired of hearing excuses,” spokesman Craig Merrillees said.
The ILWU picketing affected only the Washington United Terminal in Tacoma and the TraPac terminal in Oakland.