PMA Suspends Vessel Operations Through Holiday Weekend

PMA Suspends Vessel Operations Through Holiday Weekend

Container cargo lines and terminal operators  suspended premium-pay weekend and holiday vessel operations at 29 West Coast ports from Thursday through Monday to avoid paying overtime wages to unionized workers they say are deliberately slowing down their work to gain leverage in contract talks.

The action marks the second time in less than a week that employers have idled vessels.

The decision will affect vessel operations from Thursday, Feb. 12 (Lincoln’s Birthday), through Monday, Feb 16, (Washington’s Birthday). Again, yard, gate and rail operations will continue.

The move was announced by the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the shipping lines and terminal operators in ongoing negotiations with the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union. The two sides have been working without a contract since their six-year contract expired July 1. PMA has alleged since October that the ILWU has intentionally worsened chronic congestion problems at the ports by not dispatching enough qualified crane operators to the docks. That has delayed the loading and unloading of ships and delayed deliveries of many imported outdoor and athletic products to U.S. brands and their retailers.

PMA said Wednesday that its members would continue yard, gate and rail operations   at port terminals at their own discretion. In Southern California, terminal operators will expand daytime vessel operations on non-holiday weekdays.

PMA said weekend and holiday pay rates command a premium of at least 50 premium of the basic longshore wage  rate. As a result, working hours on those days would be paid at between $54 and $75 per hour for longshore workers and clerks, and between $77 and $92 per hour for foremen. PMA members have concluded that they will not conduct vessel operations on those dates, paying full shifts of ILWU workers such high rates for severely diminished productivity while the backlog of cargo at West Coast ports grows.

ILWU President Robert McEllrath responded Thursday by urging union members to stay united.

“This is an effort by the employers to put economic pressure on our members and to gain leverage in contract talks,” said McEllrath. “The Union is standing by ready to negotiate, as we have been for the past several days.”

McEllrath said PMA cancelled a negotiating session scheduled for  1pm Thursday with the ILWU’s Negotiating Committee. The employers have not made themselves available to negotiate since Friday of last week, the union said.