America’s roaring economic engine remains at a complete halt this weekend as ships sit unloaded along the West Coast ports. Labor disputes and unsuccessful contract negotiations between workers (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) and West Coast port employers (Pacific Maritime Association) has caused a shutdown and created threats of a lockout.
The Port of Hueneme a smaller port near Point Mugu pulled in about 14.3 million in total gross revenue last year according to a draft audit report. Now the record breaking port is suffering from job loses, clientele disappointments, and overall profit decrease.
“Generally, breaks don’t help anybody,” says Ray Fosse, former Oxnard Harbor Commissioner. “Strikes hurt West Coast ports in particular because the ships are mobile assets. If they don’t get treated well here, they will go somewhere else.”
Currently Port of Hueneme, alongside the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, trade up to 40 percent of U.S. imports from Asia. The ports are a huge asset to American jobs bringing in 9 million along the coast.
“Longshore men lose work if ships leave, but ships are lined up ready to be unloaded. Consumers are hurt ’cause their products aren’t making the shelves,” says Fosse. “The PMA, Pacific Maritime Association needs their work done, yet doesn’t want to give the union what they want. More funds for retirement plans, more people hired cause of the expansion, and an agreement on how things are done.”
Many union workers are getting mixed messages from the port officials and their union representatives. Union Local 46, Port of Hueneme union branch, is responsible for representing the dock workers who load and unload cargo containers from the ships at port.
Warren Shelton, Secretary Dispatcher at the Port of Hueneme, states how port employers have cut the amount of workers by two thirds for the second time in the last year.
“In a time of when we should increase amount of dock workers, they have cut us off,” says Shelton. “It’ll take years for us to recover from this, let alone a lock out.”
Even though a lock out has yet to occur, a shut down is forced this President’s weekend as struggles to meet an agreement continues.
Pacific Maritime Association’s President and CEO James C. Mckenna came out with a statement last Wednesday that laid out their concessions calling it the “Cadillac Plan”. Within the Cadillac Plan, PMA offers to give full time ILWU workers 40 hours a week, increase in wages by 160 thousand a year, healthcare premium plan paid for, and an increased pension by 11 percent.
“PMA has concluded that the latest offer is as far as we can go at this point,” states Mckenna. “These slow downs are having the same effect as a workers strike, except that workers are still getting a pay check. The slow downs need to stop, the terminals can not with stand anymore. We’re truly close to gridlock and long term these actions undermine the credibility of West Coast ports in an environment that is going to become more competitive with the expansion of the Panama Canal and the increase in trade to the East Coast.”
A shut down was issued Thursday morning in all 29 ports after ILWU did not accept PMA’s Cadilliac Plan. Instead ILWU’s President Robert McEllrath turned to the public in response.
“The PMA is trying to divide us. They are using lies and tactics to turn the public against us, turn locals against the negotiation committee, and reconcile against each other,” states McEllrath. “But we know the truth. We want to go to work and their blaming us. There is space on the docks to unload vessels, there is cargo to be delivered, and we’re here to do it. We’re here to go to work.”
The union supplied photos from many of the 29 marine terminals showing the abundant amount of space that would fit incoming containers.
“What the employers need to do is stay at the negotiating table and work through a few remaining issues with the workers who have made them successful for the past 80 years. We are very close to reaching an agreement,” states McEllrath in a press release given last Thursday.
Union workers began to see changes in the port’s atmosphere and operations once their contract came to an end last year in July. The ILWU and PMA began back and forth settlements in May with assumptions that the contract would be an easy revamp.
Union workers want to see a change in last year’s contract due to the increase in workload the port requires after its last year expansion with consumers and increase demands from dock workers.
According to a 2013 Oxnard Harbor Distract document, “The Dispatcher”, longshore men’s wages full time with complete skill availability started at an estimated $66 dollars by the third shift with overtime starting at an estimated $74. These wages ended July of last year.
“It is not that we want an increase in wages, that’ll be nice, but we need new rules of operation and more men to do the operations,” says Steve Arevalo, 8 year Port of Hueneme dock worker and union member. “This weekend I would have gotten holiday pay, but PMA is saying we were doing a slowdown and didn’t want to pay us for the work so shut down the docks.”
The PMA accused the ILWU of slowing their productivity down due to the dispute. McKenna stated that numbers dropped from 30 to 50 percent since November, causing entire strings of vessels to a stop.
Andrew Palomares, Chief Finance & Administrative Officer at Union Local 46 Port of Hueneme, stated that PMA’s claim was false.
“The longshore men have not ended, slowed, or made a point to effect the production side of the port. They can’t, they don’t have the means to it. The only way a slow down would occur is if the Maritime [PMA] did it themselves, which they have. They cut the amount of dispatchers a day to almost a half,” says Palomares.
Dispatchers for the ports are the dock workers who load and unload the products from the incoming and outgoing vessels.
“Without these men and women, there would be a massive decrease in the amount of ships coming in and out, meaning production numbers would drop severely,” says Palomares.
The daily strike cost the U.S. $2 billion a day according to the nation’s retailers and manufacturers. If a settlement does not reach a means soon the U.S. is looking at a huge blow to the economy.
“What the ILWU heard yesterday is a man [President james C. McKenna] who makes about one million dollars a year telling the working class that we have more than our share. Intensifying the rhetoric at this stage of bargaining, when we are just a few issues from reaching an agreement, is totally unnecessary and counterproductive,” concluded McEllrath.
Union workers should be back to work Tuesday the day after President’s day. Whether PMA wants to pay them or shut down the port once more is unclear. With a lock out still on the table, union workers show no signs of backing down.
Holding rallies and protests, West Coast labor unions hold together as a family.
Unclear of when a settlement will be reached many hold their hopes high that the negotiation will come to an end soon.
Let America’s economy set sail again by setting sail to the ships in the West Coast ports.