LOS ANGELES: The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) has begun a halt to weekend loading or unloading of vessels at 29 U.S. West Coast ports.
"After three months of union slowdowns, it makes no sense to pay extra for less work," said PMA spokesman Wade Gates, "especially if there is no end in sight to the union's actions which needlessly brought West Coast ports to the brink of gridlock."
The PMA said vessel operations are scheduled to resume on February 09, 2015 while yard operations moving processed containers for truck and rail delivery will continue at terminal operators' discretion.
The move follows a final offer earlier this week to 20,000 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to settle a labor dispute that has caused severe port congestion over the past six months.
The PMA says its "all in" five-year contract offer will provide full-time ILWU workers - who it says already earn an average of US$147,000 a year - with a 14 percent pay increase over the next five years; 100 percent employer-paid health care coverage up to $35,000 per annum; and an 11.1 percent increase in their individual pension ceiling to $88,800 per year.
After "months of contract talks" the PMA says it agreed to ILWU demands for no change in members' health benefits as well as control over maintenance and repair of truck chassis that move containers around ports.
On the same day as the final offer, ILWU president Robert McEllrath responded to the PMA saying: "We're this close. We've dropped almost all of our remaining issues to help get this settled - and the few issues that remain can be easily resolved."
McEllrath urged the Federal mediator to keep both sides talking until an agreement is finalized: "If the PMA closes the ports, the public will suffer and corporate greed will prevail," he said. Referring to the ports owners he added: "These foreign-owned companies make billions of dollars and pay their executives millions to do their bidding."
The ILWU says it has pledged to keep West Coast ports open "despite the massive, employer-caused congestion crisis that has delayed shipping for most of 2014". The PMA view is that the ILWU slowdown - which it claims is prohibited by contract - has severely impacted operations at Tacoma, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach.
"The deteriorating situation on the docks is in nobody's long-term interest," said PMA president Jim McKenna. "I hope the ILWU leadership will give very serious consideration to this contract offer, which I believe respects their members and gives us a clear path to conclude these talks. We owe it to workers and businesses across the nation to resolve our differences and get our ports moving again."
Responding to the weekend port suspension McEllrath said:"What the ILWU heard yesterday is a man who makes about one million dollars a year telling the working class that we have more than our share. Intensifying the rhetoric at this stage of bargaining, when we are just a few issues from reaching an agreement, is totally unnecessary and counterproductive."