Ship Unloading Resumes at West Coast Ports as Labor Talks Continue

LOS ANGELES (Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

Dockworkers resumed unloading ships at West Coast ports Monday, after employers suspended those operations over the weekend amid an ongoing labor dispute.

The Pacific Maritime Association, an employer group representing shipping companies, said it stopped the weekend unloading of ships because it didn’t want to pay overtime to workers who they allege have deliberately slowed operations to gain leverage during contract talks.

The line of ships anchored off the Long Beach and Los Angeles coast waiting for berths grew over the weekend, from 28 Friday afternoon to 31 Sunday morning, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California. By Monday morning there were 23 ships at anchor, after several moved into port in expectation that ship unloading would resume, the group’s executive director Capt. J. Kip Louttit said.

Fears of a shutdown at the 29 West Coast ports have risen recently. Last week, the employer group’s president, Jim McKenna, said ongoing congestion could soon make the ports inoperable, leading employers to shut operations.

He called on the union to stop alleged slowdown tactics and agree to what he called an “all-in” offer with increases in wages and pension. The union has not publicly said what it wants in a new deal.

The two sides were expected to meet again Monday afternoon.

Employers and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have been locked in bitter talks for a new West Coast dockworkers’ contract for nearly nine months — a period that has seen debilitating congestion up and down the West Coast.

Before slowdown allegations surfaced in November, LA and Long Beach already saw the worst bottlenecks in a decade, because of the increased use of ever-larger container ships and a shortage of the trailers that truckers use to haul goods from the ports.

The union says such industry-wide changes have caused the congestion up and down the coast, although employers contend the union created the problem.

The union also disputes employers’ claims that there is nearly no space left on the docks.

“There are acres of asphalt just waiting for the containers on those ships, and hundreds of longshore workers ready to unload them,” union president Robert McEllrath said last week. “The employers are deliberately worsening the existing congestion crisis to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table.”

The union has blamed the employers for worsening the congestion by cutting back on night work.

If the ports shut down, it would be a blow to businesses already smarting from brutal congestion that has delayed shipments and led to a loss in sales.