Bill Mongelluzzo, January 20, 2015, JOC.com
Terminal operators resumed daytime vessel unloading Tuesday after a one-day hiatus, but otherwise it was status quo at all U.S. West Coast ports.
That means the ports remained congested due to slowdowns by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Seattle-Tacoma and Oakland, and a refusal by the union to dispatch sufficient skilled labor in Southern California, said Steve Getzug, spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association. “Congestion still exists,” he said.
Nine containerships were at anchor in Los Angeles-Long Beach, which is the same number of container ships that were awaiting berths on Monday, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, a nonprofit dedicated to developing commerce in the region.
The PMA on Monday announced that it would not assign longshoremen to unload vessels so terminal operators could concentrate their resources on clearing out the backlog of containers that is choking all of the ports. The ILWU criticized employers for cutting out vessel labor, saying the move would result in further vessel delays and would not result in diminishing the congestion on the docks. Truck traffic at the ports was light over the three-day weekend.
Employers are continuing their recently implemented policy of not assigning vessel labor at night in Los Angeles-Long Beach to ease the backlog in the container yards, although they continue to man all yard and gate positions at night in Southern California. Terminal operators have not opened their facilities at night for several weeks now in Seattle-Tacoma and for the past two weeks in Oakland.
Getzug said container crane productivity in the northern ports remains below normal, while in Los Angeles-Long Beach the ILWU since early November has been dispatching only 35 yard crane operators each day, down from 110, which has been the norm for years. The skilled equipment operators are essential to full yard operations.
Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka told the annual conference of the California Trucking Association on Saturday that terminals were operating at 95 to 97 percent of utilization, which is far above the 80 percent utilization that terminal operators consider the limit before service is degraded.
On Tuesday, a disagreement between the ILWU local in Seattle and SSA Marine resulted in longshoremen working for only four hours at Terminal 18. “The clerks conducted a short grievance strike that’s protected conduct under Section 7, NLRB. In retaliation,SSA fired all of its longshore gangs,” said ILWU spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent.
The employer said the disagreement began when the port last week opened up a nearby terminal to be used as a truck queueing site because of long lines at Terminal 18. No trucks used the Terminal 5 site on Tuesday, but the ILWU wanted a marine clerk to be assigned to the site, and longshoremen walked off when SSA refused to assign a clerk.
Meanwhile, contract negotiations between the ILWU and PMA continued all of last week through Saturday. Negotiators took a break on Sunday, but were back at the table Monday and again today. Chassis maintenance and repair jurisdiction continues to be a major issue preventing a contract. Contract negotiations began on May 12, 2014, and have been held under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service the past two weeks.
West Coast ports have experienced congestion since last summer, due to operational issues such as cargo spikes each week from big ships, a chassis shortage and service issues on the intermodal rail networks. ILWU job actions since early November have intensified the congestion issues to the point of near-gridlock, the PMA stated.