Local Issue Causes Short Walkout in Oakland as Labor Talks Continue

Labor walkout at Port of Oakland
Day shift workers walked out on Wednesday at the Port of Oakland over a local pay issue (file photo)

Published Nov 3, 2022 5:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

While the unions representing U.S. West Coast dockworkers and employers continue to negotiate four months after the labor contract expired, smaller disputes are popping up creating problems at the ports that would normally be resolved through arbitration. In the latest example, clerks at the Port of Oakland, California staged a short walkout on Wednesday bringing activity at three terminals to a halt over a local dispute. The Port of Seattle had a similar local issue last month while experts fear that other issues could continue to emerge as the contract talks drag on likely into 2023.

The Port of Oakland reported that three of its terminals that move goods internationally were experiencing “interruptions” during the day shift on Wednesday after members of the ILWU Clerk’s Local 34 staged an unannounced walkout. The evening shift reported for work and the terminals were reported to operating normally today, November 3. The Matson terminal which handles domestic cargo was unaffected by the walkout.

Sean Farley, president of ILWU Local 34 told the SFGate that the walkout on Wednesday "has nothing to do with the contract itself." He explained that the 240 clerks had over 200 outstanding wage claims, which SF Gate reported ranged between a few hours to over $1,000. The clerks walked out demanding action on their claims with their union representative saying the issue had been going on for years between the local members and terminal operators.

Normally this type of dispute would have been submitted to arbitration. Farley noted the union has won past similar claims at arbitration. However, because the master contract has expired, they are unable to submit their claims for arbitration until a new contract is resolved.

Some media reports sought to link the walkout in Oakland to the larger contract negotiations. The Fox TV affiliate in Oakland reported “they want a labor agreement from the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).” The national union was quick to say however that it was a local action that it was not aware of while the PMA issued a statement calling the unscheduled walkout “unproductive.”

A local issue in Seattle has also threatened to disrupt the broader contract talks. Mediterranean Shipping Company and stevedore company SSA Marine operating Terminal 5 are in a jurisdictional dispute with the International Association of Machinists and ILWU over responsibilities related to shore power connections for vessels calling at the terminal. A motion was filed with the National Labor Relations Board over this dispute while the companies are also suggesting that it should be covered by the master contract being negotiated. 

Both the ILWU and PMA agreed at the beginning of the contract negotiations to impose a media blackout levering everyone to speculate on the progress of the contract talks. During his monthly update in October, the executive director for the Port of Los Angeles Gene Seroka said he expected it would take months to resolve the contract but that he was confident that it would be resolved. Speculation, however, has focused on the possibility of one of the local issues spilling over to disrupt the process and possibly lead to a job action in one or more of the ports.