Port Productivity Declines During ILWU Contract Negotiations

The work climate at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is turning a bit chilly.

Labor negotiations between longshore workers and shipping lines plod along in San Francisco, entering their fifth month to hammer out a new labor contract. The old contract between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union expired July 1. It covers 26,000 workers at 29 West Coast ports.

Meanwhile, shipping lines and terminal operators represented by the PMA complain that longshore workers are working slower to have more leverage over the negotiations.

Steve Getzug, a PMA spokesperson, said longshore workers have been taking their 15-minute coffee breaks at the same time instead of staggering them as they have in the past.

The PMA also maintains that workers on the day shift have taken added steps to reduce productivity. “We have seen activities on the dock that are small things that have an accumulative effect,” Getzug said. “Tractors aren’t moving as fast as they normally do; containers hang in the air longer than they might.”

The result, the PMA said, is a 20 percent to 30 percent drop in productivity.

ILWU spokesperson Craig Merrilees doesn’t deny that workers are taking their coffee breaks at the same time or that some people might be working a bit slower than normal, but he said any tension between the two sides seems to be calming down.

“All in all, when you compare that to the good news that ports are open, cargo is moving, people are working, companies are making money and talks are progressing, that’s a pretty good picture,” he said. —Deborah Belgum