Confirming that eight months into negotiations progress has come to a standstill in West Coast longshore talks, employers on Monday requested federal mediators to enter the negotiations.
“Outside intervention is necessary to bring the talks to conclusion, particularly given the ongoing impact of ILWU work slowdowns, which have disrupted cargo movement at the major West Coast ports of Tacoma, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach,” the PMA said in a statement issued late on Monday.
“After seven months of negotiations, we remain far apart on many issues,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates. “At the same time, the union continues its slowdowns, walk-offs and other actions that are having impacts on shippers, truck drivers and other local workers – with no end in sight. It is clear that the parties need outside assistance to bridge the substantial gap between us.”
The PMA acknowledged what other port and industry leaders have been openly saying recently, that the slowdowns and ongoing lack of a contract are damaging the West Coast as gateways for import and export container cargo. “The union’s continued actions are creating long-term – even permanent – damage to the West Coast, hastening the continued loss in market share to ports on the U.S. East and Gulf coasts.
According to the PMA statement, “ILWU slowdown tactics have reduced productivity at Pacific Northwest ports for more than a month and a half, with drop-offs of 30-40 percent now the norm,” according to PMA analyses of terminal operations. “Intermittent walk-offs have also occurred in Oakland. At the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s busiest, the ILWU restricted dispatching skilled crane operators to operate yard cranes, among the most important jobs to relieve congestion on the docks.”
Gates said: “We began negotiations seven months ago by underscoring everyone’s concerns about the West Coast loss of market share, which directly impacts local jobs and economies. We emphasized our commitment to good-faith bargaining and the importance of ensuring that there were no disruptions or other actions that would cause shippers to lose confidence in the future of our ports. Unfortunately, the ILWU’s slowdowns are causing those concerns to grow, and it is clear we need outside intervention to allow us to reach consensus on the issues between us.”
The ILWU said it was drafting a statement and will release it on Tuesday. Both sides have to agree to federal mediation before the government will consider entering the talks.
The development shows how the negotiations have come full circle, from this spring and summer when the ILWU and PMA released a series of joint statements pledging to keep cargo moving and when the two sides in late August reached a tentative agreement on health care benefits. Since then the talks have gone steadily downhill, with work slowdowns disrupting the ports of Seattle and Tacoma and exacerbating already difficult conditions at Los Angeles and Long Beach tied to a chassis and trucker shortage, bigger ships and larger volumes.