Union says West Coast ports won’t shut down, others not so sure

Sarah Aitchison, November 24, 2014, Puget Sound Business Journal

West Coast ports may be slower, but they will not shut down during the holiday season.

That’s according to Craig Merrilees, spokesman for the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union.

The ILWU and its managing authority, the Pacific Maritime Association, are in the midst of renegotiating a labor contract that expired over the summer. They have been working without a contract since then.

The PMA has requested the union sign a temporary contract, which management says will bring normalcy to the work flow. So far, the union hasn’t. Without a temporary contract neither party has access to an arbitration process.

Negotiations turned ugly earlier this month when the PMA accused the ILWU of slowdowns all along the West Coast, beginning at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

The union says it’s not them, it’s major changes in the industry that are causing congestion and the slow downs at West Coast ports.

The finger-pointing sparked a series of official letters to and from involved parties asking for resolution.

A letter from more than 100 organizations to President Barack Obama, federal agencies and West Coast governors described a port shut down on the West Coast as imminent.

But the union thinks that’s unlikely.

“Nobody wants to shut down the ports,” Merrilees said. “Nobody on either side of the negotiating table is talking about shut downs.”

When asked about whether shut downs could happen, the PMA wasn’t as staunch as the ILWU in its response.

The primary thing is that so many people depend on the ports for flow of goods both in and out, Wade Gates, spokesman for the PMA, said.

Last week, the PMA sent out the latest in its series of press releases about the matter. In it, they said that the union is taking a 12-day break from the negotiating table.

But, as usual in this game of he-said she-said, the union disputes these claims. They say it’s not that they aren’t talking, just using fewer people.

“Everyone remains committed to reaching a fair agreement as soon as possible. We believe the small working group/committee format is moving that process along,” Merrilees said.

The last time ports along the West Coast shut down was in 2002, when the union was locked out. The ILWU hasn’t gone on strike in decades.

 

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