Labor negotiations continue between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). On January 6, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation service announced it was joining the negotiations as requested by both parties who have been operating without a contract since July 1, 2014. The details of the negotiations are not readily available however the results of the dispute are significant.
According to the PMA, beginning in late October the ILWU suddenly refused to dispatch qualified crane operators to the port locations. Productivity dropped in Seattle-Tacoma and the Port of Oakland. Crane productivity is measured in containers per crane hour and this productivity plunged from an average of 27.4 to 19.1 in Seattle and from 32.1 to 23.9 for the port of Oakland. In addition to this go-slow work pace, crane operator shifts were cancelled because of absent crane operators.
Los Angeles-Long Beach which remains the busiest West Coast port handling more than 80 percent of the West Coast containers bound for its extensive intermodal rail connections has been the hardest hit. Qualified crane operators have been reduced by up to 75 percent and according to Gene Seroka, the executive director of the Port of Los Angeles 95-97 percent of the port‘s land is full of containers.
The effect of this go-slow work tactic is apparent as drayage companies wait 10-12 hours before loading 1 container. Previously a drayage driver would handle 3-4 containers in a work day. Driver waiting time, detention charges for containers and chassis along with demurrage costs caused by these delays are being billed. Delays have been averaging 2 weeks. Clients should be notified to expect these additional charges.
Some relief is expected in February and March as container volumes inbound to West Coast ports decrease to seasonal slower volumes. Cargo routed to other ports including Houston have also been delayed because of insufficient rail capacity. This congestion will not be resolved until the labor dispute is finally settled.
The Pacific Maritime Association represents shipping lines and terminal operators at 29 West Coast ports.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, represents 20,000 West Coast dockworkers.
Salvatore Ferrante, President