West Coast ports resume normal operations after weekend closure

Sarah Aitchison, February 9, 2015, Puget Sound Business Journal

Ports along the West Coast resumed normal operations Monday morning, after all vessel loading and unloading ceased during the weekend.

The Pacific Maritime Association, or PMA, represents all terminal operators at all 29 West Coast ports, and has been renegotiating an expired labor contract with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union for months. On Friday, it announced it was shutting down vessel loading and unloading — work done primarily by ILWU members – for the weekend.

The exact cost of the weekend shut down is unclear.

A 10-day shutdown could cost the U.S. economy as much as $2.1 billion each day, according to The National Retail Federation and National Association of Manufacturers. That’s more than twice as much per day as the last time the ports shut down, in 2002.

Because the PMA only shut down vessel loading and unloading, some terminals were open for yard, rail and gate work. At the Port of Seattle, cargo was able to get dropped off, said Port of Seattle spokesman Peter McGraw.

However, during the weekend, McGraw said there were vessels at least four vessels at berth and anchored that were not loaded or unloaded.

“But things seem to be moving now,” he said.

The story at the Port of Tacoma was similar.

Vessels that normally would have been worked over the weekend were not, yet some yard operations continued, said Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina.

It was too soon for either McGraw of Mattina to quantify how many containers would have normally been loaded and unloaded or how much money may have been lost.

Both McGraw and Mattina said they could not anticipate what would happen if the ports shut down in any capacity again.

“We just take it as it comes,” McGraw said. “We’ve been urging both sides to resolve their negotiations so people can get their cargo safely and efficiently in and out of our terminals.”

Representatives from the PMA and the ILWU have not returned calls.

The six-year labor contract between the PMA and ILWU expired July 1. Negotiations have been rocky and slow, and beginning on Oct. 31, the PMA began publicly accusing the ILWU of slowing down work in an effort to gain bargaining power.

The ILWU claims it is not dockworkers slowing down work, but major changes in the industry that are causing the ports to move less efficiently.

At the beginning of January, the two parties jointly requested help from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Since the involvement of a mediator, the PMA and ILWU have come to agreement on at least one issue.

But last week, things took a turn when the PMA announced it had offered it’s best offer, and said if the ILWU didn’t sign it, the ports would end up shutting down.

 

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