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Ports & Terminals

ILWU clerks shut down Port of Oakland

Port of Oakland container terminals were shut down this morning as a result of a labor action initiated by clerks represented by International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 34, according to sources at the Port of Oakland.

A Port of Oakland public advisory noted: “Our terminals are reporting terminal interruptions this morning that may lead to delays.”

One source described the cause of the dispute at Oakland as “a pay dispute” and noted that in recent weeks, there has been a slowdown of Port of Oakland marine terminal operations caused by a shortage of ship clerks that is related to the dispute.

Attempts to reach officers of ILWU Local 34 by telephone for comment were unsuccessful.

Ordinarily the current dispute might have gone to arbitration and been resolved, the source said, but as the ILWU has been working without a contract this has not been possible.

Another dispute is between the ILWU and Stevedoring Services of America at the Port of Seattle. This is related to jurisdiction over shore power operations and connections to ships which shut off their engines in Port to reduce emissions.

The previous agreement between the ILWU and PMA expired on July 1, 2022, but operations have continued during ongoing negotiations.

Tensions Mount As Contract Talks Drag On

The delay in reaching a contract between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) is causing growing problems for West Coast ports as West Coast shippers have moved more exports and imports through U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports.

The current extended contract negotiations are beginning to recall the slowdown that afflicted West Coast ports during the stalemate in 2014-2015 contract negotiations between the ILWU and PMA. This caused some shippers to permanently move their business away from the West Coast ports.

Agreement Months Away?

The continued uncertainty was enhanced by the possibility that a settlement may be months away.

On October 24th, Eugene Seroka, executive director, Port of Los Angeles, told Bloomberg: ““It’s not going to get solved in the next few weeks -- it will probably take some several months and there is no hard deadline on this.” He added that his view doesn’t represent those of employers or the union.

Automation

One area of dispute between the two parties is automation.

Some ILWU members have argued in favor of rolling back the agreement the ILWU made in 2008 allowing terminal operations to become more automated and to employ more electrified cargo-handling equipment.

In 2019, there was an ILWU rank-and-file backlash against automation and over its implementation at the APM Terminal at the Port of Los Angeles.

In July 2020, ILWU President Willie Adams sent a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom arguing against automation: “This is simply not the time to allow further job losses to automation. Losing jobs to automation not only undermines the long-term capacity of our ports, but it does lasting damage on our families.”

Currently three terminals — Long Beach Container Terminal, TraPac and the APM Terminal utilize automated operations.

In 2021, the ILWU denounced Total Terminals International (TTI), when the company announced its intentions to automate. TTI operates a facility at the Port of Long Beach’s Pier T.

At the time, ILWU Local 13 President Ramon Ponce de Leon charged that: “While foreign-owned corporations like TTI continue to push to fully automate their terminal operations at our publicly owned U.S. ports, they need to remember that the ports exist for the benefit of the U.S. and local economies, not the destruction of jobs and maximum extraction of foreign profit.”

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis

WEST COAST CORRESPONDENT

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