ILWU rejects contract extension; PMA Chief: ‘one conclusion – slowdowns planned’

ILWU rejects contract extension;
PMA Chief: ‘one conclusion – slowdowns planned’

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (September 23, 2002) – Despite a week in which crippling work slowdowns threatened to shut the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has refused to extend its contract with the Pacific Maritime Association, thus indicating that the Union’s tactics of slowdowns and other disruptions are likely to continue.

The PMA board, which met over the weekend, spent considerable time examining the slowdowns and other disruptions that occurred during the past week.  At the conclusion of its meetings, the board reaffirmed its policy that there would be a need for a collective response in the event of further slowdowns. 

Although the four-day ILWU work action at one of the largest terminals in Long Beach has apparently come to an end, other sporadic work actions were reported over the weekend, prompting PMA President and CEO Joe Miniace to deliver an urgent request to his negotiating counterpart, ILWU President James Spinosa, on Saturday.  The request called for a return to the 24-hour contract extensions that were in place from July 1 to September 1, when the union first refused to continue the practice. 

After the union refused to comply with his latest request, Miniace said there was little ambiguity about the result: “The only reason not to extend the contract is to open up the door to work slowdowns, so this refusal leads us to one conclusion: the ILWU is planning to continue its practice of crippling job-actions on the waterfront.” 

Though the union has a general practice of denying that specific incidents are intentional work-slowdowns designed to exact leverage at the negotiating table, earlier this month the union did finally admit to the practice, even threatening to use the tactic.  Numerous press reports quoted ILWU spokesmen as saying the door was open to slowdowns or other work actions.  Normally, when a contract is in place, such actions are prohibited, and are subject to arbitration.

Last week saw a concerted effort by the ILWU to interrupt the operations of Stevedoring Services of America, one of PMA’s largest member companies, and one of the biggest tenants at the Port of Long Beach, which is the nation’s second-largest container port.

“It is clear that this union is continuing its divide-and-conquer tactics, trying to pit one employer against another,” Miniace said.  “But the PMA members stand united in their resolve to negotiate a fair contract that enables the introduction of much-needed technology onto the West Coast waterfront.”

The weekend saw incidents at Portland, Tacoma and Port Hueneme, which the ILWU insisted were not officially sanctioned job-actions.  Given that statement by the union, Miniace suggested in his letter to Spinosa that a contract extension would ensure that local disputes “do not become the basis for a wider confrontation.”  

Miniace closed his letter by saying, “PMA believes that the contract extension would assist the parties in the process of negotiations by removing these distractions and at the same time provide assurance to the shipping public that normal operations will continue on the West Coast.”

The ILWU employed slowdowns during the 1996 and 1999 contract negotiations, after each of the previous contracts had expired.  Earlier this year, in anticipation of this round of talks, Miniace declared that slowdowns would not be tolerated, and that PMA would be forced to consider a defensive shutdown of the ports if the union failed to comply. 

Given the just-in-time nature of the global economy, work slowdowns can have crippling effects not only on the shipping industry, but on retail, manufacturing and other essential job-creating industries.  Their economic consequences can, at times, be felt world-wide. 

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