By Andrew Khouri, January 13, 2015
Trucks make their way out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on the 710 Freeway.
Employers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will no longer
order dockworkers to unload ships at night, a move they contend will
help relieve crushing congestion on the waterfront.
The labor cut,
scheduled to begin Tuesday, is intended to put fewer new containers on
docks that are near capacity, allowing night-shift workers to focus on
clearing the cargo boxes already there, said Steve Getzug, a spokesman
for the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents shipping lines and
will still be called at night to put containers onto trucks and rail
cars and will also unload ships during the day, he said.
union representing West Coast dockworkers said the work reduction would
increase port congestion and is intended to pressure union negotiators
who have been attempting to reach a new labor agreement for eight
If cargo isn't unloaded at night, the backup of ships
anchored off the coast will grow, said Adan Ortega, a spokesman for the
International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13 in San Pedro.
“It can only do one thing -- it can only make it worse,” he said.
week, tensions between the sides appeared to ease when employers and
the union asked for federal mediation to help reach a new contract for
about 20,000 West Coast dockworkers.
But the two sides have broken
their brief silence, issuing dueling news releases that blamed each
other for severe cargo congestion up and down the coast.
The bottlenecks have wreaked havoc on supply chains across the country and caused some businesses to lose sales.
appear] to be abusing public ports and putting the economy at risk in a
self-serving attempt to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table,”
the union said.
Employers also accuse the union of trying to gain
leverage during negotiations. They say the union is deliberately
slowing operations at ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle
and Tacoma, Wash.
The union, however, has said congestion is the
result of employer-induced snafus, including a shortage of trailers that
truckers use to haul goods from the ports and the rise of massive
container ships that have overwhelmed the docks.
the slowdown accusation first surfaced, L.A. and Long Beach were
already experiencing the worst congestion in a decade. The two ports
make up the nation's largest cargo container complex, receiving about
40% of the nation's imported goods.
In L.A. and Long Beach,
employers say the union has refused since November to dispatch many
skilled crane operators who put cargo containers onto trucks and rail
The tactic has reduced the number of workers and worsened congestion at the two ports, employers say.
Ortega said the union stopped dispatching untrained, non-certified
crane operators for safety reasons, following several accidents. He said
employers have failed to train enough workers.
The five major West Coast ports are now “approaching complete gridlock,” according to employers.
"The [union] slowdowns and the resulting operational environment are no longer sustainable,” Getzug said.
weeks ago, employers reduced the number of workers called to unload
ships at night in Los Angeles and Long Beach, saying doing so would
allow them to more easily clear congested yards.
Getzug said that
reduction led to “some incremental improvements” and employers hope that
by stopping all-night unloading improvement will quicken.
Current contract talks have been ongoing since May and dockworkers have been working without a deal for more than six months.
talks are the most heated since 2002. Then, following slowdown
accusations, employers locked out workers for 10 days, shutting ports
along the West Coast and sending ripples through the national economy.
Employers haven’t threatened such an action this time.