Why Will Dockworkers Not Sign a Contract Extension?

October 5, 2002


SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- One stroke of the pen.  That’s all it will take to open West Coast ports.  The ports remain closed because the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has refused to extend the contract it worked under for three years.

The Pacific Maritime Association, representing shipping lines, wants the ports re-opened.  The last thing the PMA ever wanted was a shutdown of our ports.  But when the ILWU staged slowdowns severely disrupting port operations, PMA was forced to act.  We must protect against similar disruptions in the future.

The Union needs to provide assurances that work slowdowns and strikes will stop.  The last time we opened the ports without a contract, the Union staged work actions that ground port operations to a halt.

That’s why we need a contract in place before opening the gates this time.

The Union’s signature on a contract extension is all we need because work slowdowns are illegal under the contract.  After 60 days of saying “yes,” the Union abruptly stopped signing daily contract extensions on September 1.  Not coincidentally, devastating work slowdowns began shortly thereafter.

The PMA has put an outstanding offer on the table.  Our proposal provides average annual wages of $114,500 to $137,500 for full-time workers, depending on classification.  Workers will enjoy a comprehensive health insurance plan that provides 100% coverage with no premiums and no deductibles, and a guaranteed pension of over $40,000 a year for life.

The PMA is also providing job protection guarantees for all registered union members who may be impacted by the introduction of new technology to modernize the docks.

America has our guarantee, too.  The ports will re-open when the longshore union signs a contract extension.  It’s that simple.  It’s one stroke of the pen.

(Detailed fact sheet on ILWU work disruptions attached)




Pursuant to the attached Resolution of the ILWU Negotiating Committee, during the later part of the week ending September 28, the ILWU engaged in a series of organized work slowdowns and job actions on the West Coast waterfront from Seattle to San Diego.  This is consistent with a pattern and past practices of work slowdowns and job actions taken during previous contract negotiations, despite ILWU statements to the contrary.  The ILWU sanctioned and directed slowdowns during the 1996 and 1999 contract talks. During the current 2002 negotiations the Union again used this tactic to gain leverage in bargaining with the Pacific Maritime Association.

As a result of these actions, on September 27, PMA put in place a three-shift cooling off period and requested that the Union return to work and provide the same level of productivity and safety exhibited prior to the contract expiration. 

After work resumed on the first shift on September 29, production on West Coast dropped by nearly 60 percent from normal production levels.  The Union refused to provide skilled equipment operators, inaccurately recorded locations of containers on terminals, failed to follow work-directions, took extended relief periods, and generally slowed down.  Steady employees (highly trained clerks who work regularly for a specific terminal) were returned to the “hall” and made unavailable to their regular employers and in their place the Union dispatched employees unfamiliar with the terminal facility causing further reductions in productivity.  Container vessels are loaded and unloaded by ship-to-shore gantry cranes.  A container crane unit is assigned to each crane designated to work a vessel.  When the staffing required for a container crane unit does not reach complement that gantry crane unit’s productivity is lost.  For example, a vessel that normally uses three crane units and only has one staffed suffers a two-thirds reduction in productivity.

In a number of large container terminals longshoremen were released because of job actions or slow production, but then refused to leave terminals.  In several cases, police and security had to be called.  Additional information of specific actions in West Coast Ports follows.

As a result of this ILWU continuation of a Coastwide slowdown, PMA members have ceased operations.


APM Terminals  – Work was ordered for two berths, one filled at 50 percent the other berth did not have any complete gangs and labor was turned away.  Steady Chief Clerk Supervisors did not report to work and replacements failed to show.  All labor was released for the later berth at 9:30 A.M.

Stevedoring Services of America – Four of five operations started between one and two hours late.  Production was slow and crane moves per hour were off 30 percent at two terminals.

American Presidents Line – Three ship gangs completed seven container crane moves by 9:00AM.  Normal production would be approximately 75.  Terminal gates were turned around as labor did not show as ordered.

California United Terminals – Three container gangs ordered did not fill to full complement and the partial gangs were released.  Labor refused to leave the terminal. When additional workers arrived, two hours after they were ordered, work resumed.  In addition, steady marine clerks did not report for yard and gate work nor did replacement workers.

Centennial Stevedore Services – Labor gangs for all three vessels in port did not fill completely and at 9:00AM management attempted to release labor, but they refused to leave the terminal.  By 9:15AM additional labor arrived and work began, but at an extremely slow pace, approximately half of normal productivity.  Steady clerks and rail planners and coordinators did not report to work as ordered.

Marine Terminals Corp. – Evergreen, Hanjin and Yang Ming terminals all reported labor shortages and late arrivals.  Operations were delayed approximately two hours. Normal productivity at these terminals is approximately 24 moves per hour and was reduced to 16 moves per hour..

Trans Pacific Container Terminal – Labor for two berths reported to work approximately one hour late and production was off 50 percent.  At Berth 136 longshore labor provided inaccurate container location information on 130 containers out of 176 which totally disrupted yard operations.


Marine Terminal Corp – All four berths reported container gangs were filled late and required skilled operators were not dispatched.  All berths experienced production loss of 50 percent or more.  None of the terminals received their steady skilled equipment operators.  At one terminal, longshoremen refused to leave the terminal when let go.  Law enforcement was called to escort labor off the terminal.

APM Terminals – One terminal did not receive any skilled labor.  As a result all labor was let go.  At a second terminal only one of four skilled crane operators was dispatched and he informed the employer he would only work half a day.  Production lost was over 50 percent.

America President Line – Skilled tractor drivers did not report to work resulting in one container gang being let go and a second gang was let go later in the work shift because of insufficient production.  Overall production was off over 50 percent.

Stevedoring Services of America – Only one of four crane operators was certified and skilled to operate the crane and he refused to operate the crane.  All labor was let go.


Marine Terminals Corp – All labor arrived late.  Normal production of 21 crane moves per hour was reduced to 5 moves per hour.  A second vessel production dropped from 23 moves per hour to 7.


APM Terminals – Steady skilled Foremen did not report for work.  On one vessel labor refused to place hatch covers on the vessel which prevented it from sailing.  On a second vessel, normal production of 30 container moves per hour was reduced to 18.

Washington United Terminals – Union labor reported to work over one hour late and reduced normal production of 27 moves per hour was reduced to 12.

Sea Star/TOTE Terminal – Labor insisted on weighing containers at the terminal entrance which delayed truck entrance and refused to work vessel until all management personnel left the vessel.


Stevedoring Services of America – Four berths were operating at reduced production levels.  Production varied from a loss of 50 percent to 60 percent of normal.

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 Describing a Work Slowdown – In the ILWU’s Own Words


The ILWU has a pattern and practice of engaging in work slowdowns during contract negotiations, despite official statements to the contrary.  ILWU-sanctioned slowdowns occurred during the 1996 and 1999 contract talks, and are being used in the 2002 negotiations as a tactic to gain leverage with the Pacific Maritime Association.

ILWU Members Confirm Slowdowns are a Tactic

Union members’ quotes in recent news reports confirm that slowdowns are a practice of the ILWU.  Said Jay Luera, Secretary-Treasurer of ILWU Local 13, in the Los Angeles Times (9/21/2002): 

A slowdown is when you go to work and work slowly. You work to the safety contract. You follow the posted speed limit of 10 miles an hour. You don't work overtime. Maybe everybody takes their lunch at the same time."

Added ILWU clerk Tom Warren in the same Los Angeles Times story:

"You see nothing but trucks down the streets, lined up outside the terminals.  Nothing moves as fast as normal. Guys don't drive so well ... people's problem-solving skills are suddenly, shall we say, diminished."

ILWU Uses the Dispatch Tape to Send the Slowdown Message

During the 1999 contract negotiations, the ILWU used its dispatch audio tape to communicate the slowdown message.  As reported in the Wall Street Journal (7/14/1999) on the day of a severe work slowdown at the Port of Oakland, the ILWU dispatcher recorded the following message to workers: 

“You know the story we used to hear about when we were kids, the story between the tortoise and the hare?  You get my meaning, enough said.”

Refusing to Extend the Contract Opens the Door

The ILWU conducts work slowdowns when there is no contract, and consequently no arbitration mechanism, in place.  ILWU President James Spinosa, in an ILWU press release the day the Union refused to extend the contract (September 2, 2002), said:

“Without a contract all economic and job actions against the employers are legal and open as options for the union.”

Added ILWU’s Steve Stallone in the Los Angeles Times (September 3, 2002): 

“It means we are not bound by any agreement and we can legitimately take job actions any time we feel like it." 

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