Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

A port employers group accused the dockworkers’ union Monday of illegally slowing down their work 200 times in the last four years, and of trying to dismiss arbitrators who ruled against the union over such actions, but the union flatly denied the allegations.

With labor negotiations set to resume Wednesday, officials from the Pacific Maritime Association — which represents West Coast port employers — said arbitrators found the International Longshore and Warehouse Union “guilty of more than 200 slowdowns or work-stoppages” during the contract period lasting from 2008 until 2014.

Officials with ILWU, the dockworkers’ union, called the PMA’s accusations “totally inaccurate,” and said it is “irresponsible for them to make these (kinds) of misleading statements.”

PMA officials also accused the ILWU of attempting to dismiss the arbitrators who found the union guilty of the illegal work slowdowns, with the union seeking a provision that would allow just one party to remove an arbitrator.

“The ILWU is essentially seeking the right to fire judges who rule against them,” PMA spokesman Wade Gates said.

“The waterfront arbitration system is an essential check-and-balance against illegal labor actions,” Gates said. “It would be reckless to allow a single party to change the rules as the union desires.”

Arbitrators can only be removed by mutual consent under rules now in place, PMA officials said.

The latest volley of accusations between the two parties followed a weekend in which the PMA ordered crews at 29 West Coast harbors, including the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, to temporarily stop loading and unloading cargo.

Port employers said they ordered the stoppage because productivity has dropped by as much as 50 percent due to an illegal work slowdown.

“After three months of union slowdowns, it makes no sense to pay extra for less work, especially if there is no end in sight to the union’s actions which needlessly brought West Coast ports to the brink of gridlock,” Gates said last week.

A line of about 20 ships stretched outside the twin ports over the weekend. When work resumed this morning, port officials said the line was reduced to 16 ships.

Long Beach port spokesman Lee Peterson said port officials are urging a resolution to the labor dispute and are “concerned we’re going to lose business,” with some customers believed to be traveling to Gulf Coast ports and harbors in Canada.

Some work was performed over this weekend, with some terminals being cleared, Los Angeles port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said. But with the halt in loading and unloading, activity was slower compared to the previous weekend, he said.

Union officials have insisted that the dockworkers and port employers are “extremely close” to a resolution of the labor talks, and have denied claims that employees were intentionally working slower. They said employees are not given enough training, so there are not enough qualified employees who can come to work.

Congestion at the ports in recent months has also been attributed to industry-wide changes that include larger ships dropping off and picking up more cargo at the ports.

Craig Merrilees, spokesman for ILWU, said the weekend work stoppage led to “delays for customers needing containers.”

“The union remains focused on reaching a settlement as quickly as possible with employers,” Merrilees said. “Talks to resolve the few remaining issues between the Longshore Union and Pacific Maritime Association are ongoing.”

Port management and dockworkers have been engaged in federal mediation over renewal of a contract that expired in July.

PMA officials announced last week they had given the union their best contract offer, which included raising wages 3 percent each year of the five- year contract and increasing pensions.

Merrilees called the weekend work stoppage “shocking,” considering that the two sides are still negotiating.

— City News Service

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