Officials at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are urging California Governor Gavin Newsom to give priority to vaccinating longshore workers against the COVID virus so as to relieve congestion and delays at the two ports caused in part by a shortage of longshore workers who have been infected.
Ed Denike, president SSA Containers, told the Propeller Club of Northern California on January 12th that current delays and back-ups of as many as 45 ships waiting to enter the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach come at a time when there has been a 10% reduction in longshore workers showing up for work related to the COVID virus.
Denike noted that the virus “seems to be causing a loss of around 700 longshoremen showing up for work per day, which is about 10% of the workforce,” echoing the 694 cases reported by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).
To help address the problem, Denike said, the ILWU and the container terminal operators have agreed to institute temperature checks at the gates of the terminals before workers enter.
Denike is hoping the terminals will work out a more efficient temperature check process with the ILWU. He believes temperature checks should be done at the ILWU hiring hall before the workers are dispatched. This way workers don’t go to the container terminal to get tested only to find they have a fever and then find they cannot go to work.
ILWU letter to PMA
In a January 18th letter to the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), the presidents of ILWU locals 13, 63 and 94 representing workers at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles complained that Southern California container terminals are not fully reporting the number of COVID cases to Los Angeles public health authorities and that insufficient measures are being taken to protect longshore workers:
“Our members, essential workers who have worked throughout the pandemic, are being exposed and infected with the virus at workplaces that are not following proper infection control protocols. In turn, they are then exposing their families to the virus when they return home from work. Further, without accurate data on our members’ cases, health departments risk not accurately prioritizing our workforce for access to the COVID-19 vaccine.”
The letter goes on to say that as of January 17th, “there have been 694 confirmed COVID-19 cases of ILWU members at the San Pedro Bay Port Complex. There have also been 1,080 exposures.”
The ILWU locals’ letter has prompted both the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to renew their appeal to California Governor Gavin Newsom to expedite vaccines to longshore workers.
Need to Work Quickly
Noel Hacegaba, deputy executive director Port of Long Beach, told AJOT that California needs to move quickly: “The congestion and disruptions at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles argue for providing vaccines to these essential workers as soon as possible. Without the vaccines, we face continued disruptions in cargo-handling that is disrupting our national supply chain and our international trade. Providing a vaccine as soon as possible is critical.”
Gene Seroka, executive director Port of Los Angeles, agreed and told AJOT:
“Our dock workers have been on the job every day since the emergency orders were put in place last March. We need to get them vaccinated as soon as possible.
The ILWU and PMA have worked together to put safety precautions in place, including designated cleaning breaks, regular testing and following all county health protocols. All steps from Los Angeles County health services are being followed.
Additionally, the Port of Los Angeles has assisted donating masks, sanitizer and other safety products.
About 700 longshore men and women have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus out of a total pool of approximately 15,000 (including casuals). There has been a significant uptick in cases since Thanksgiving. There have been spot shortages of labor on the docks in recent weeks, with the surge of cargo also playing a significant factor.”
Both Seroka and Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero have urged that California Governor Gavin Newsom fast-track providing vaccines to longshore and harbor workers as soon as possible.
Seroka explained: “Back in December, I co-signed a letter with other industry leaders directed to (California) Governor Newsom asking to elevate our longshore workers to Phase One B, Tier One. We want that to happen immediately. Since then, we have been in regular contact with county and state officials, including California Secretary of Labor Julie Su trying to get this done. We all know that the vaccine is rolling out slower than all of us would like here in the United States, but we need to prioritize these workers.”
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