“With a tentative contract in hand, West Coast ports are easing their way back into full production, although the performance of longshoremen Monday was not consistent up and down coast, according to the Pacific Maritime Association.
In Los Angeles-Long Beach, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union resumed full dispatch of skilled yard crane operators after reducing dispatches from 110 to 35 per day beginning in early November. These operators are crucial to dissipating the container backlog at the largest U.S. port complex because they transfer containers from the stacks to the truckers who dray the containers to distribution facilities and intermodal rail yards.
Employers in Seattle and Tacoma said crane productivity Monday was rapidly approaching normal. During the hard-timing of employers that the PMA said began on Oct. 31, the average container moves per crane, per hour, plunged below 20 from normal levels of 26-28.
Problems surfaced in Oakland over the weekend when ILWU Local 10 called a work stoppage because of a disagreement over dispatching procedures and break times. The area arbitrator was called in to issue a ruling — the first time an arbitrator was allowed to adjudicate a dispute on the West Coast since the previous ILWU contract expired on July 1 — and the arbitrator ruled that Local 10 was engaging in an illegal work stoppage.
Longshoremen in Oakland were working the yards and gates normally on Monday, although the dispatching of crane operators was restricted, so operations at the Northern California port were still compromised. This was reportedly more of an intra-union disagreement between Local 10 officers and steady crane operators.
Nevertheless, the incident demonstrates that even though the new contract is tentative and must still be ratified by the ILWU membership, the grievance and arbitration process in the contract is back in effect. This should go a long way toward preventing local disagreements such as occurred in Oakland from dragging on endlessly as the incidents did in recent months.
Even with these improvements in productivity, however, the cargo and vessel backlogs at West Coast ports are expected to take months to clear. The ports and employers predict it could be two to three months before Los Angeles-Long Beach is completely back to normal, although the northern ports could require somewhat less time than that.
The Marine Exchange of Southern California reported Monday there were 27 containerships at anchor, or three fewer than on Sunday. Oakland reported five ships at anchor and 13 waiting outside of the Golden Gate Bridge. Ten ships were at anchor outside of Seattle and Tacoma on Monday.
The process of ILWU ratification of the proposed contract will begin in March. ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said the union will hold a caucus attended by 90 democratically-elected delegates. They will meet for one week and determine whether to recommend the agreement to the general membership. If they do recommend approval, the full text of the proposed contract will be submitted to the rank and and file, and membership meetings will be held at the individual ports. Voting will be held by secret ballot.
Merrilees said this process can take several months, but “during the process, work continues as normal at all of the ports.”