West Coast port companies to suspend vessel operations for 4 days; union reacts

SEATTLE -- The association representing port terminal operators announced Wednesday that it will shut down vessel operations at West Coast ports from Thursday through Monday, Presidents Day, because of ongoing union slowdowns during contract negotiations.

"In light of ongoing and costly ILWU (International Longshore & Warehouse Union) slowdowns, PMA members will temporarily suspend premium pay weekend and holiday vessel operations on four upcoming dates, while yard, gate and rail operations will continue at terminal operators’ discretion," the Pacific Maritime Association announced.

PMA spokesman Wade Gates said, "Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion. The  ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet, and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock. What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.”

A lockout would shutter 29 ports that handle about one-quarter of the nation's international trade.

The ILWU issued the following statement:

"Today, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), a consortium of international corporations, informed the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) that ships will not be worked at West Coast Ports four of the next five days.

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

"The same group of predominantly foreign-owned companies also cancelled a negotiating session scheduled today for 1pm with the ILWU’s Negotiating Committee. The employers have not made themselves available to negotiate since Friday of last week.

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

"At the same time that PMA announced this action and cancelled today’s negotiations, PMA’s public relations firm issued a press release that grossly mischaracterizes the ILWU’s current bargaining position.

“It seems to us that the employers are trying to sabotage negotiations,” said McEllrath. “They are not just hurting workers, families and communities,” he said, “what our employers are doing is bad for the industry and the US economy.”