Labor Dispute Disrupts Oakland Terminal Traffic

File image courtesy US Army Corps of Engineers

By MarEx 2016-03-29 21:13:19

On Monday, a dispute over working hours at the Port of Oakland led to an hours-long shutdown at the largest of its five terminals. 

22 workers reportedly objected to management's request that they start at 6:45 AM instead of the usual 7:00 AM; when they did not start work at the earlier time, they were dismissed. 44 of their colleagues slowed or stopped work in protest. 

“The company refused to honor the start time in our contract,” said Craig Merrilees, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

An arbitrator swiftly ruled that both the firing and the labor action that followed were improper, and work was set to resume later in the day. "The [dismissed] workers were made whole" by the arbitrator's decision, Merrilees said, adding that they would be paid for Monday's hours and could return to work Tuesday. 

A Port of Oakland spokesman told local NPR affiliate KQED that operations had returned to normal as of the morning of March 29.

The ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, the organization representing longshore employers, have a long history of disputes. A nine-month period of slowdowns and walkouts ending in early 2015 led many shippers to send their goods to East Coast ports, resulting in increased container volume at terminals from Galveston to Port Elizabeth while gridlock jammed Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The Port of Oakland will lose its second-largest container terminal this week as the operator, Outer Harbor, winds down its operations and enters bankruptcy. Outer Harbor said in a filing February 1 that it had operated at a loss for years. The closing reportedly put pressure on the Port of Oakland to find additional container capacity at adjacent terminals to take up the traffic; 90 percent of Outer Harbor’s former volume is going to Oakland International Container Terminal, the facility affected in Monday’s labor action. 

Outer Harbor's owner, Ports America, told the Journal of Commerce in January that it would be concentrating its investments in its other West Coast holdings, focusing its capital resources to upgrade a small number of terminals to accommodate ultra-large container vessels.