The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) announced that loading and unloading operations at all 29 West Coast ports would temporarily be suspended this weekend in response to union slowdowns that brought freight movements at the ports to a near standstill.
After Breitbart broke the story on Thursday that union members of the ILWU planned to “walk out within the week,” the PMA employer group announced they can no longer continue to pay workers the premium pay for diminished productivity.
With ILWU members continuing to withhold the needed crane operators and slow crane movements, shippers and their customers estimated they were losing $1 billion a day. But a complete shut-down is expected to raise the U.S. economic pain to $2 billion a day.
“After three months of union slowdowns, it makes no sense to pay extra for less work,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates, “especially if there is no end in sight to the union’s actions which needlessly brought West Coast ports to the brink of gridlock.”
PMA CEO James McKenna said productivity had dropped between 30% and 50% in recent months, crippling whole strings of vessels, in some cases. He complained that the union’s strategy is jeopardizing American jobs and threatening the long term viability of businesses large and small. It’s like “they’re getting paid to grind us into the ground.”
The union denied the claims and said the congestion crisis was “employer-caused.”
The PMA hopes to resume yard operations for processing container movement onto trucks and trains on Monday. “The entire supply chain – from agriculture to manufacturing and retail to transportation – have been dealing with the lack of a West Coast port contract for the last nine months.
Jonathan Gold, Vice President for Supply Chain at the National Retail Federation (NRF), quickly responded to the shocking news of a 2 day suspension of terminal activity up and down the Pacific Coast: “Temporarily suspending port operations is just another example of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association shooting themselves in the collective bargaining foot. The continuing slowdowns and increasing congestion at West Coast ports are bringing the fears of a port shutdown closer to a reality.”
Gold added, “Our message to the ILWU and PMA: Stop holding the supply chain community hostage. Get back to the negotiating table, work with the federal mediator and agree on a new labor contract.”
The NRF represents over 1.6 million U.S. retail establishments that employ more than 24 million employees and have total sales of $6.4 trillion. Members include discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, and Internet retailers. They also act as an umbrella group to represent more than 100 associations of state, national, and international retailers in 45 countries.
In a similar series of work safe job action slowdowns in 2002, the Pacific Maritime Association closed down their operations and locked out workers for 10 days. President George W. Bush invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to reopen the ports.
Although the Obama Administration had taken a hands-off attitude to the labor battle, shippers, ports, and members of Congress will inundate the President to become personally involved at trying to forge a settlement. The Administration’s only statement in the last month was from a spokesman who said the President was confident both sides could reach a deal “through the time-tested process of collective bargaining.”