The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) said that it may need to suspend loading and unloading operations in response to persistent work slowdowns by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
In the midst of contract negotiations, the slowdowns have cut freight movement by as much as 50% at some of the 29 West Coast ports covered by union contracts – ports that handle up to 40% of import/export businesses in the United States.
The “work slowdown” is a common tactic used by unions to increase pressure on employers in the lead up to or during contract negotiations. PMA member companies said that a productivity cut of 50% would not support the average wage of $1,200 per day cost to pay International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) members.
In a statement released on February 5, ILWU International President Robert McEllrath condemned “the Pacific Maritime Association for threatening to shut down West Coast ports, bargaining in the media, and distorting the facts”… and that “intensifying the rhetoric at this stage of bargaining, when we are just a few issues from reaching an agreement, is totally unnecessary and counterproductive.”
The PMA employer group said that they could no longer continue to pay workers the premium pay for lackluster productivity. Predictably, the ILWU said a lack of work accounted for loss of productivity saying shippers were leaving cargo at sea offering undated pictures of empty docks as evidence.
The PMA countered with an observation that the ILWU was withholding needed crane operators and engaging in slow crane movements that PMA member companies and customers said were costing them an estimated $1 billion a day. A complete shut-down would raise the impact on the U.S. economy $2 billion a day.
PMA CEO James McKenna said the “union’s strategy is jeopardizing American jobs and threatening the long-term viability of businesses large and small. It’s like “they’re getting paid to grind us into the ground.” McKenna added that the PMA has been dealing with work slowdowns at West Coast ports since contract negotiations began nine months ago.
Jonathan Gold, speaking for the National Retail Federation (NRF) said “our message to the ILWU and PMA: Stop holding the supply chain community hostage.” The NRF represents more than 1.6 million U.S. retail businesses employing in excess of 24 million Americans and total sales of $6.4 trillion last year.
In short, a work stoppage of any length would jeopardize retail sales, jobs and the struggling economy nationwide.