PMA Says Local 13 Continues to Disrupt Ports Despite Progress in Talks

PMA says union local is disrupting ports
PMA continues to accuse union members of disrupting and delaying operations at Los Angeles and Long Beach (file photo)

Published Apr 21, 2023 1:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Pacific Maritime Association is continuing to say that members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) local are disrupting operations at some of the terminals in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The association representing employers at the ports repeated its assertions of actions by the local only hours after the union’s headquarters issued a statement announcing a tentative agreement on “certain key issues” in the 11-month old contract negotiations.

The Wall Street Journal is quoting sources familiar with the negotiations saying that the agreement came “regarding automated machinery at cargo terminals.” According to their reporting, the tentative agreement pertains to the use of automation at the ports, which was considered to be one of the main points of contention in the negotiations. Last year, both the PMA and the union issued studies on the impact of automation at the California ports with reports saying the union was not only looking to block further automation but also roll back prior concessions on automation. Only three of the terminals have reportedly deployed automation but it is believed that the operators will be seeking to expand its use.

Observers are noting that yesterday’s statement unlike previous ones was not a joint release from the ILWU and the PMA. The employers’ association issued a brief comment later in the day saying “While significant progress has been achieved in coastwise contract negotiations, several key issues remain unresolved.”

For the past month, the PMA has been saying that Local 13 which covers the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has been using new tactics to disrupt operations. In previous statements, the PMA said that Local 13 was using illegal tactics ranging from failing to stagger meal breaks, to not reporting for two shifts on April 6 and 7, and “red flagging” equipment at the terminals.

Yesterday, the PMA repeated its positions saying, “Work actions led by ILWU Local 13 at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach continued to disrupt some operations at key marine terminals today. The Union is deliberately conducting inspections that are not routine, unscheduled, and done in a way that disrupt terminal operations.”

Local 13 previously responded to the earlier accusations confirming that it was using the current lull in volumes at the ports to conduct inspections that had been deferred over the past two years while the ports were operating at peak levels. “Monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, and annual inspection requirements ensure that cargo handling equipment is in good working condition.” They cited safety concerns noting that accidents could lead to damage to cargo and equipment as well as serious or fatal injuries. “Terminal operators that have a clear shortage of mechanical personnel on staff, naturally have the longest list of shortcomings to address,” the Local’s statement said.

“We hope to complete these inspections in a systematic and expeditious manner for the benefit of all supply chain partners,” Local 13 said. “Meanwhile, our members are continuing to move cargo with skill and efficiency.”

Contract negotiations began on May 10, 2022. While the expectation was that it would be a lengthy process, calls have been growing for an agreement. The uncertainty and fears of further escalation that could impact the operations continue to be cited by shippers and carriers as ships and cargo are diverted from the West Coast ports.