ILWU to protest restricted night shift at Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach

Councilman believes ports have taken “another step closer to a lockout.”

Excerpt from American Shipper | By: Chris Dupin  |  January 16, 2015

In what seems a discouraging sign for shippers and others hoping for a resolution of the contract talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the employer group Pacific Maritime Association, a rally is being organized for next week to protest the decision to limit the amount of work being done at congested marine terminals in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino said he expects 5,000 people to show up for a demonstration and march down Harbor Boulevard in San Pedro next Thursday.

This week, the PMA eliminated night shifts for ILWU gangs that load and unload containerships at marine terminals in the two Southern California ports.  The PMA says it took that step to clear congestion at container terminals in order to “mitigate the impact of ILWU slowdowns that have now lasted for 10 weeks.”

The PMA is continuing to hire gangs at night within the terminals and at truck gates, but it said with many terminals at more than 90 percent of capacity there is limited room for cargo as it is offloaded from ships.

But Buscaino said “The PMA’s action in further cutting night shifts at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is another step closer to a lockout. It’s the wrong time to take the type of actions that will hurt the hard working residents that I represent. It will only serve to worsen the slowdown and congestion at the ports, disrupt the global supply chain, and result in irreparable damage to the reputation of our ports complex at a time when competition is peaking. I believe we are at a point where there may be no winners in the end.”

He also signaled that discussions over chassis jurisdiction may be a sticking point in the negotiations.

“I beg the PMA to come to a resolution by allowing the ILWU jurisdiction over the chassis issue and bring our economic engine back to efficient operation before we lose business permanently.”

Local 13 of the ILWU publicized the event in a bulletin posted on its website.

Meanwhile, the number of containerships anchored outside the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has grown in the past week.

According to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, there were 18 ships — 15 container ships, two general cargo ships and 1 bulk carrier — waiting to berth on Friday at 7 a.m.

During a tour of the two ports and roundtable discussion about port-related infrastructure organized by the American Association of Port Authorities, officials from the two ports said some actions taken by the ILWU and PMA during the contract negotiations in recent weeks have not helped. Much of the congestion in the port could be attributed to changes in the industry, including the move to much larger ships and big, new alliances among steamship companies.

“You have fewer vessel calls of larger ships that are bringing in massive amounts of cargo at one time. It’s great for the shipping lines because of the economies of scale, but the effects that is having on our terminals is such that it brings a strain,” said Noel Hacegaba, chief commercial officer of Port of Long Beach.

New, larger alliances have complicated stowage of cargo and terminal operations at the two ports as well.

Several officials from the two ports used the analogy of a container ship being like an Easter basket filled with a jumble of containers from different carriers and bound for different destinations in the U.S. instead of multicolored eggs.

Carriers face an increasingly complex task in offloading those containers and sorting them into groups that can then be sent to the same location — be it on a double stack train bound to an auto assembly plant in the Southeast, a warehouse in Chicago or a transload center in California.

Jon Slangerup, the chief executive officer of the Port of Long Beach, said carriers putting big ships into service and entering into larger alliances “are going through their own learning curve. They are learning how to play nice together — these are fiercely competitive entities and they are learning to play nice together or at least cooperate to a level when they unload ships. The next stage for them is what’s in it for them to cooperate on the loading of the ship in such a way that it expedites or speeds freight once it hits the ports.”

Dan Gardner, the president of the consulting firm Trade Facilitators said in an article he mailed to publications yesterday that he believes port delays are “a permanent part of the ocean transport landscape that will not go away.”

Gardner, a former senior executive at Exel Global Logistics and DHL, suggested that beneficial cargo owners “take a hard look at their inbound supply chain options and at a minimum… add at least three weeks to their lead-time-offsetting calculations.”

In addition to larger ships — and LA/Long Beach officials made it clear that they expect 18,000, even 20,000 TEU ships to be used on services to the West Coast — Gardner believes LA/Long Beach ports face a challenge because of a “fundamental lack of additional real estate that is needed to accommodate all of the land-side activities associated with servicing mega-ships,” a need for more rail infrastructure, a need for more chassis and lack of truck drivers.

In order to help free-up more chassis in the port, the Port of Long Beach opened an empty container facility at Pier S in the port on Dec. 29. Truckers will be able to drop empty containers at the terminal operated by Pasha Stevedoring rather than having to bring them to congested terminals. However, port officials say the depot has not yet been used as carriers are still negotiating terms of doing business.

Meanwhile, a group of  174 local, state and federal trade associations representing agriculture, manufacturing, and retail industries and other importers and exporters sent a letter today to Robert McEllrath, president of the ILWU, and James McKenna, chief executive of the PMA, urging them to renew their commitment to completing contract negotiations.

“As customers of your ports, and industries affected by their operations, our members desperately need this negotiation to be concluded and operations returned to normal levels of through-put,” the trade groups wrote. “We have been disappointed, however, by the exchanges that have occurred in the media and accusations by both sides of improper tactics.”

It’s unclear how effective such letters are, though repeated pleas for involvement of a federal mediator were fulfilled when the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service began assisting the two sides.

“Sales of American exports remain clouded in uncertainty across Asia and our overseas competitors eagerly highlight the problems at West Coast ports as a reason not to purchase American made or grown products,” said the trade groups.