America’s best-paid union members caused another four day shut-down of the 29 West Coast ports that move 43% of U.S. imports and exports. About 80% of heavy crane operators have been calling in sick in an apparent scheme to delay port activity until the union can force employers to pay double-time for work on the four union contract holidays for “Lincoln’s Birthday” and “President’s Day.”
Employers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) said members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) successfully slowed down loading and unloading at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports to the point that crane operator shifts had fallen on a weekly basis from about 100 shifts in November to fewer than 20 in January.
Under the union contract, employers are forced to pay 50% to 100% on top of normal wage rates as “premium pay”. Last weekend, the PMA was forced to suspend West Coast operations for two days because the union was gaming the contract to force employers to pay the maximum amount of overtime and double-time pay.
It was hoped that volume would get back to normal after the weekend. But ILWU workers this week seemed to be slowing activity even more as part of a scheme that could force the PMA to pay double-time under the union contract’s “holiday clause” for work on Thursday for Lincoln’s birthday and the three days from Saturday through Monday as the President’s Day holidays.
Wade Gates, PMA spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, said in a statement published on the employer’s web site that by the end of the weekend’s work suspension the total number of ships anchored waiting to enter the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach had spiked to 31 from 20 on Friday. He pointed out that last year at the same time, that number was zero. Gates complained, “What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.”
ILWU President Robert McEllrath responded that it was the predominantly foreign-owned corporations that make up the PMA negotiating committee and that the employers cancelled a negotiating session on Wednesday with the ILWU’s Negotiating Committee: “This is an effort by the employers to put economic pressure on our members and to gain leverage in contract talks.” He added that “The Union is standing by ready to negotiate, as we have been for the past several days.”
The port slowdown is metastasizing pain across the U.S. economy. BNSF Railway Co., which handles up to 15% of U.S. intercity freight, says the number of its containers the ILWU loads and unloads at West Coast ports each week as been cut in half, from 6,000 to 3,000.
The Obama Administration said they are taking a hands-off attitude to the labor battle, but expecting the union to break employers resolve, according to Breitbart News sources. The Administration’s only statement in the last month was that the President was confident of a settlement “through the time-tested process of collective bargaining.”
But Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday that the 14-week-old labor dispute has created a “very serious situation” for U.S. meat, poultry, and grain exporters. He reported that the North American Meat Institute estimated that with beef, pork and poultry sitting in freezers near the ports rather than going to Asian markets, American ranchers are losing more than $40 million per week. He warned that with storage full, the industry would soon have to suffer huge losses by dumping meat into the American domestic market, sending prices lower.
Harry Bridges, who organized the ILWU in 1930 and ran it for the next 60 years, was an ardent Marxist and staunch supporter of the Soviet Union until his death in 1990. Despite being an alleged member of the Communist Party of the United States’ Central Committee in the 1930s, he is celebrated by the likes of House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi, who once said, as Speaker of the House, that “Harry Bridges led the struggle for worker’s dignity.” Bridges replied to complaints about his union’s violent tactics: I’m a machine man, and I head a machine.