PMA Accuses ILWU Local of Illegal “Disruptive Actions” at SoCal Ports

PMA accuses ILWU of illegal disruptive actions
PMA is accusing ILWU Local 13 of disruptive illegal actions in the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex (file photo)

Published Apr 13, 2023 7:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

Eleven months into the contract negotiations governing dockworkers at the West Coast’s ports, the promises of cooperation are quickly fading with the employers’ representative for the first time today issuing statements accusing the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 13 of purposely continuing to disrupt operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. While port executives have sought to downplay the potential of a significant job action, fears of disruptions have already been weighing on people while recent events are only serving to increase the concerns.

 “ILWU Local 13, the union’s largest local on the West Coast, has continued to disrupt operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s largest port complex,” writes the Pacific Maritime Association in a statement released on April 13. “While the union is using new tactics, the result is the same: the disruption of terminal operations.”

The PMA which represents employers at the 70 terminals located in the West Coast ports is detailing a series of complaints, writing “Together, these illegal work actions have disrupted activities at some of the largest and most active terminals in the United States, which play a critical role in the movement of cargo to and from markets throughout the nation.” 

Among the tactics they are citing as being used by the Local are “unilaterally delayed the standard dispatch process, which is jointly administered by PMA and ILWU.” They are accusing the ILWU of refusing to let the PMA participate in the labor dispatch process, resulting in slowing the start of work on each shift. They also say the union has “forced crucial cargo handling equipment to be taken out of operation at several key terminals.”

These latest issues follow last week when members of Local 13 did not show up for their assigned shifts on Thursday, April 6, in the afternoon and again for morning shifts on April 7. Terminals across both ports were forced to suspend operations for approximately 24 hours due to a shortage of workers.

The PMA also repeats its position that the Local “stopped complying with a contract provision,” about a month ago that permits staggered shifts during breaks for meal periods. The goal is to permit cargo to continue to be received and delivered without interruption during the break periods.

For its part, the ILWU Local 13 said last week’s labor shortage was due to a monthly union meeting on Thursday evening, which this month involved the swearing in of a newly elected president of the local. Friday, they noted, was a religious holiday where some workers wanted to be with their families.

“Longshore workers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach (Ports) are still hard at work and remain committed to moving the nation’s cargo,” said the ILWU Local 13.

Asked to comment on the labor issues during his monthly update, Gene Seroka, Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles, on Wednesday, April 12, sought to downplay last week’s disruptions saying it was a slow period due to the holiday. He told reporters, “I don’t see a widespread labor disruption at any time in the future.”

Seroka however said last week’s actions were “a call to action,” reiterating his position for months that a settlement needs to be reached as quickly as possible. He said after last week “all eyes” are on the contract negotiations and the time has come to get a settlement to remove uncertainties and the fear of wider disruptions to supply chains and the nation’s economy. While saying he expected soft volumes in the second quarter, Seroka said he sees signs beginning to appear and forecasts a moderate increase by the third quarter.

The National Retail Federation has also said they expect volumes to continue monthly increases, but they also warned of the dangers to the recovery from labor actions at the West Coast ports. The retail trade association expressed its concerns before last week’s job actions and today’s statement from the PMA.