Slowdown Continues at Area Ports


As a work slowdown continued in the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, longshore workers returned to their jobs in Oakland on Thursday, ending a two-day shutdown of the nation's fourth-largest harbor.

"We are up and running. Things are a bit slow around here, but it's nothing we can't handle," said Debbie Girard, a representative for the Bay Area port.

Crane operators refused to work Tuesday and Wednesday at all 11 Oakland terminals, leaving at least a dozen freighters waiting to be loaded or unloaded. Truckers, however, could still pick up cargo stored on the wharves.

While operations resumed in Oakland, stevedoring companies reported new work slowdowns by dock workers in the ports of Tacoma and Seattle. At some terminals, they estimated that productivity had dropped by a third.

The job actions coincide with a pause in contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents almost 100 shipping lines, stevedore companies and terminal operators.

For seven weeks, the union and the association have been negotiating a new three-year contract for more than 10,000 dock workers in Washington, Oregon and California.

Discussions went into hiatus Saturday to give the union time to consider the association's latest contract offer.

According to the association, the offer included a 32% increase in pension benefits for future retirees and a 15% increase in benefits for current retirees.

Sources close to the negotiations said pension benefits are an important issue for the union, which has wanted a higher increase for current retirees, among other things.

Officials for the union and Pacific Maritime Assn. said contract talks are expected to resume this morning in San Francisco. The development has eased concerns that more serious work stoppages would occur.

"This is a positive sign," said Joseph Miniace, the association's president and chief executive officer. "I am extremely hopeful that West Coast ports will resume normal operations and that we will conclude contract negotiations in the next couple of days."

The work stoppage in Oakland began at 7 a.m. Tuesday when crane operators refused to go to work because they wanted a full-time signal person for each crane. The issue came up during the contract talks but was dropped.

In Oakland, two crane operators are assigned to every crane during a shift. While one unloads cargo from the ship, the other acts as a signal person to help guide cargo containers onto waiting trucks. After four hours, they change posts.

Crane operators say that they want a full-time signal person so they will not have to do that job.

Steve Stallone, a union spokesman, said union members in Oakland met Wednesday afternoon and decided to return to work. They felt the issue would not be resolved, he added, until there was a new contract and an arbitration process in place.

Stallone said the resumption of work had no connection to an unfair labor practices complaint filed against the Oakland local by the Pacific Maritime Assn.

Alleging that the work stoppage was illegal, association officials asked the National Labor Relations Board to order the crane operators back to work.

A hearing was held Wednesday afternoon, but no formal ruling was made. Association officials withdrew their complaint Thursday after the crane operators returned to work.

In Los Angeles and Long Beach, however, a work slowdown by marine clerks continued to hamper port operations for a third straight day. Clerks track and inventory cargo as it moves around the docks.

Since Tuesday, they have refused to work their lunch hours and an early morning shift that allows terminals to move cargo without interruption during the day. Overtime pay is offered to clerks who decide to work those hours.

"Our terminals are working, but it's slower than usual," said Yvonne Avila, a representative for the Port of Long Beach, the largest container port in the nation.

Contrary to earlier news accounts, Stallone said the marine clerks in Los Angeles and Long Beach have not been acting in sympathy with the Oakland crane operators.

"They are completely independent of each other," said Stallone, who is based at the union's headquarters in San Francisco. "The clerks down there are on their own."

The union's position is that no work slowdowns have occurred in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The clerks, Stallone said, are simply choosing not to work any overtime in the morning or over their lunch hours.

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