West Coast ports shut down for the long weekend

by Erica Shaffer
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SAN FRANCISCO – The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) announced a four-day partial shutdown of 29 shipping ports on the West Coast.

Closure dates include Feb. 12 and Feb. 14-16. Terminal operators in Southern California will expand daytime vessel operations on non-holiday weekdays, while yard, gate and rail operations will continue at terminal operators’ discretion, PMA added.

Exporters of beef, pork and poultry already face growing backlogs of shipping containers containing at key West Coast ports — especially the Port of Long Beach. The PMA and the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union (ILWU) have been in contract negotiations since May 2014.

“The decision to temporarily close West Coast ports is another major blow to our industry, which is already suffering an estimated $85 million per week in losses due to the labor dispute and slowdown,” said a spokesman for the North American Meat Institute (NAMI). “It’s time that the two sides reach an agreement to get the ports moving again and ease the significant harm to our industry and many others.”

Tom Super, vice president of communication for the National Chicken Council, said most poultry is shipped through East Coast ports, the NCC has been supportive of efforts to quickly resolve the West Coast port dispute. He said an extended closure has a ripple effect and adds additional costs and economic uncertainty for NCC members who export chicken.

“With Russia banning our chicken because of US sanctions last year, coupled with unscientific and unjustified blanket bans by China and Korea due to avian influenza detections on the West Coast of the US, any disruption at this point is cause for serious concern and we join with myriad other industries in urging the president to take immediate action to avoid a full shutdown of West Coast ports,” Super noted.

Weekend and holiday pay rates command a premium of at least 50 percent of the basic longshore wage rate, PMA said. The pay rate for those days would be between $54 and $75 per hour for longshore workers and clerks, and between $77 and $92 per hour for foremen. PMA said its members will not conduct vessel operations on those dates, "paying full shifts of ILWU workers such high rates for severely diminished productivity while the backlog of cargo at West Coast ports grows."

“Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion,” said Wade Gates, PMA spokesman. “The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet, and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock. What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.”

Robert McEllrath, president of the ILWU, said the port closures were PMA's attempt to divide rank-and-file members and turn public opinion against the union.

“We want to go to work, and they're blaming us,” McEllrath said in a video message to ILWU members. “There's space on the docks to unload vessels, there’s cargo to be delivered and we're here to deliver it. We're here to go to work.”
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