Tensions in labor battle at west coast ports rise between unions and management

Shipping containers at the Port of Seattle.

Patti Domm | CNBC

Tensions are rising in labor battles at West Coast ports as unions and port management trade accusations over worker productivity and the allocation of work assignments.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has been accused of using slowdown tactics that reduced cargo handling, according to a report in the trade publication JOC.

The finger pointing comes at a time when labor negotiations between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association (which represents terminals and shipping lines) are about to enter a fourth month. The dockers have been working without a contract since July.

According to the report, the slowdown has led to reduced productivity at the ports of Oakland and Seattle-Tacoma, but according to CNBC’s supply chain heatmap, operations at these ports have been in line with productivity. port update and there has been no significant change. cargo handling issues recorded.

The CNBC Supply Chain Heatmap receives daily port productivity data ranging from vessel mooring, vessel time in port, wait time for import and export containers in terminals, as well as rail wait times and truck pick-ups.

Port of Seattle-Tacoma officials told CNBC that last week a small number of picketers at Seattle’s Terminal 5 were protesting the use of the Machinists’ Union instead of the ILWU to perform “cold ironing.” , a process where ships can use shore power when moored. CNBC was informed that the operation of the vessel was suspended for a shift and that the problem had been resolved. The terminal is used by SSA Marine.

“Operations in the Northwest Seaport Alliance gateway are running smoothly, with the Seattle and Tacoma terminals operating at normal productivity levels,” said John Wolfe, general manager of the Northwest Seaport Alliance.

Jerome Roberts, chief marketing officer of supply chain consultancy Blume Global, told CNBC that the shift protest had no lasting impact on productivity.

“Data collected by our platform consistently showed that vessel turnaround time and dwell time showed no significant direction changes,” Roberts said. “Over the past few weeks, it appears that port productivity and activity have been steady respectively at the ports of Oakland, Seattle, Long Beach and even Los Angeles, which have recently experienced a labor slowdown. work.”

“The ILWU works and negotiates, and we have done both successfully for nearly 90 years,” said ILWU Coastal Committee member Cameron Williams. “Unfounded rumors are growing during the negotiations, and it is unfortunate that some media are publishing opinions instead of facts.”

Meanwhile, the ILWU claims Pacific Maritime Association member SSA Marine ‘circumvented the assignment of work’ by bringing in the National Labor Relations Board and assigning the cold ironing work to another union, a job that should have gone to their members under the terms of the contract.

“We are shocked that the SSA is taking such a step, and we are currently regrouping to determine how to proceed in negotiations as we see an employer breaching the very provision of the contract the parties were negotiating over,” Williams said.

A spokesperson for SSA declined to comment and referred all questions to the PMA, which did not respond to requests for comment.

Logistics companies fear the latest round of charges will only heighten tensions for a national supply chain and port infrastructure already facing multiple labor issues.

The Port of Los Angeles diverted 40,000 containers to the Port of Long Beach in August when Port of LA dockworkers refused to work in the automated section of APM Terminals, the world’s largest container handling facility, citing problems of security. APM is part of AP Moeller-Maersk A/S and the automation part of the terminal has been operating since 2020. Workers have not worked at this facility for almost four weeks.

This diversion of containers to Long Beach, in addition to the continued rerouting of containers to the East Coast, resulted in the Port of New York taking the top spot in import and export container handling in August. The Port of Los Angeles fell to third place.

Project44, which also collects and analyzes port productivity for the CNBC Supply Chain Heatmap, has tracked some recent issues at Seattle operations.

Container dwell times at the Port of Oakland improved during the month of September, according to Josh Brazil, vice president of supply chain insights at Project44. Containers that used to stay eight or more days are now waiting an average of four to five days. But Seattle operations are experiencing increased export dwell times, currently 11 days. That’s up 83% from the previous 6-day average at the start of the month. “The general outlook is that it looks like business as usual in terms of dwell time, with the exception of Seattle exports,” Brazil said.

One of the challenges facing U.S. agricultural exporters is export delays out of the Pacific Northwest. A US logistics manager recently told CNBC that they bypassed the Port of Seattle/Tacoma by using the UP to Norfolk Southern rail line to the Port of Virginia where their cargo was loaded onto a Hapag Lloyd vessel.

The CNBC Heat M Supply Chainap the data providers are the artificial intelligence and predictive analysis company Everstream Analytics; the global freight booking platform Freightos, creator of the Freightos Baltic Dry Index; the logistics provider OL USA; the FreightWaves supply chain intelligence platform; the Blume Global supply chain platform; third-party logistics provider Orient Star Group; the marine analysis company MarineTraffic; marine visibility data company Project44; shipping data company MDS Transmodal UK; Ocean and Air Freight Rate Market Benchmarking and Analytics Platform Xeneta; leading research and analytics provider Sea-Intelligence ApS; worldwide crane logistics; and air, DHL Global Forwarding; freight logistics provider Seko Logistics; and Planet, provider of daily satellite images and global geospatial solutions.

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