More Disruptions at SoCal Ports as PMA and ILWU Spar Verbally

Southern California labor problems ports
Union insists the ports are open while PMA says union actions are disrupting handling of containers (Los Angeles file photo)

Published Jun 12, 2023 2:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Pacific Maritime Association is reporting that after a brief pause, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union resumed its disruptive practices at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach yesterday while Seattle also continues to be impacted since late last week. The contract negotiations are devolving into a war of words and opposing press releases from both sides while the danger mounts for supply chain disruptions as the ports show bookings for increased traffic this week and next.

At the end of last week, there were reports that traffic was moving at the dual southern California ports after several days of disruptions as lashers failed to show up for work. It is a vital role in securing and releasing containers from the vessels for handling. 

“The ILWU resumed its past practice of withholding lasher from terminals at the nation’s largest port complex, resulting in vessels having to miss their scheduled departures,” the PMA contends in a statement issued early this morning California time. They are saying that the ILWU has staged disruptive work actions for months that have slowed operations or shut the largest West Coast ports.

This goes against a statement made by the ILWU on Saturday, June 10, saying that the ports are open despite the PMA’s claims. The union said it was committed to bargaining a “fair and equitable” contract and called on the PMA to do the same.

The PMA responded in its statement saying the disruptive actions “contrast sharply” with the ILWU’s statement. They issued a long list of actions ranging from delays in dispatch, to the lack of specialized workers and lashers, “unfounded” health and safety claims, inspections which they said were deliberately done to disrupt activity, and “improperly” coordinating breaks.

The back and forth between the two sides comes as the Port of Los Angeles shows that there are 11 containerships on berth and 22 expected this week. They are projecting volume to be up seven percent versus last week. The Port of Long Beach is also projecting an increase in volume with a total of more than 123,000 boxes expected to be handled during the week.

Similarly, the Marine Exchange of Southern California as of 0700 California time this morning said eight containerships had checked in and were awaiting their berths. Late on Monday they updated the report adding that three containerships have delayed their departures from Los Angeles and Long Beach two or three days and one inbound ship also delayed its arrival. The Marine Exchange is showing a total of 52 containerships that have reservations over the next two weeks to arrive for the two ports. This corresponds with both ports showing that they are expecting a 10 percent increase in container volumes next week.

The Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, and the National Association of Manufacturers each last week called for the Biden administration to appoint a mediator to move the contract negotiations along. So far, the Biden administration public has said that it is only closely monitoring the situation while it preferred that the employers and union settle their differences at the bargaining table. The Journal of Commerce, however, is reporting as of late Monday that Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su traveled to San Francisco to meet with the PMA to discuss the growing labor problems. The hope is that the Department of Labor will attempt to medicate the dispute and stop the disruptions at the ports.