PMA Documents Significant Drop in Waterfront Productivity Coast Wide; Forwards Detailed Information to U.S. Justice Department

PMA Documents Significant Drop in Waterfront Productivity Coast Wide;
Forwards Detailed Information to U.S. Justice Department

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (October 23, 2002) – Since the West Coast ports reopened under a Federal Court order on October 9, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has engaged in a concerted, systematic work slowdown impacting productivity at every major port.  These debilitating actions by the Union come despite a Court requirement to resume work at a normal and reasonable rate of speed.

The Pacific Maritime Association has documented these significant declines in productivity and has forwarded information to the United States Department of Justice for review. 

Productivity reports compiled by PMA and its member companies demonstrate that during the first week back to work under the Taft-Hartley injunction, container move productivity fell 34% in Oakland, 29% in Portland, 27% in Seattle, 19% in Tacoma, and 9% in Los Angeles/Long Beach.

These productivity figures are based on gross container moves per hour -- a direct, objective measure -- in comparison to historical data correlated to specific vessels and terminals. 

“The ILWU is playing games with the U.S. economy, and inflicting economic pain and hardship on scores of companies and their employees,” said PMA President and CEO Joe Miniace.  “Given the extreme urgency of keeping the goods moving through our ports, I cannot fathom why the Union would deliberately take these slowdown actions.”

As indicated by the experience at the Port of Tacoma, the Union has the capacity to move cargo at or near normal rates when it determined to do so.  On the first shift back after the Court entered the Temporary Restraining Order (the night shift on Wednesday, October 9), Tacoma had gross container move productivity of 92.6%.  On the next shift, Wednesday morning October 10, Tacoma experienced even higher productivity, at 95.1% of normal levels.  That night, the ILWU held a membership meeting in Tacoma.  The days following the meeting, productivity fell to 81.7% on Thursday, October 11, to 55.0% for Friday, October 12, and 52.8% on Saturday, October 13. 

The ILWU has repeatedly offered several excuses for the drop in productivity.  These include an assertion of congestion, safety issues, and the need for more labor.  Those claims, taken separately or together, do not account for the sudden and major drop in work levels at four major ports, and are discredited by the fact productivity levels at certain terminals have ranged from 90% to 100% of normal.

Not only are container moves down substantially, but numerous other indicators demonstrate a substantial failure to return to work at a normal and reasonable rate.  The following examples are drawn from the week of October 9 to 16, though early indications show that similar activities are continuing through the present.      

Failing to Fill Gangs.

The Union has only partially filled “gangs” of workers.  On numerous occasions, the gang of workers was short one or two skilled positions, typically a hook checker or a Clerk Supervisor.  Those shortages have resulted in the entire gang being returned to the dispatch hall and performing no work.  “By withholding critical labor, the Union made it impossible to run normal operations,” Miniace said. 

In Seattle, for most of the first week, the number of gangs being worked had to be reduced by at least one-third due to there simply not being enough longshore and clerk workers reporting for work to the shifts.  In Seattle, the Union typically dispatches 16 to 19 gangs of workers on the day side shift.  Yet, in the first week since entry of the Court’s Order, the ILWU dispatched only 8 to 13 gangs on the day shift.  

Slow Dispatch

The PMA analysis reveals that the Union’s dispatch operation has been especially slow.  Union workers, especially Clerks, consistently report to the job site one hour or even over an hour after the start of the job.  On numerous occasions, skill jobs do not fill, or fill quite late in the dispatch process.  Jobs for hook checkers, Clerk Supervisors, and semi-drivers have been unfilled, or only filled late in the dispatch, day after day in several of the major ports.  This results in labor reporting late to the job, and decreased production. 

“Sick” Days

On several occasions, Clerks left work soon after starting, reporting that they were sick.  For example, on Monday, October 14, one of the PMA member companies in Southern California ordered four gate Clerks. Just as the shift was starting, three of the four gate Clerks said they were sick and left the jobsite.  This caused major problems for the terminal operator, and cut in half the number of gate moves on that shift.

The overall productivity figures differ by shift and by port for the first week of operation.

  • In Long Beach, the first shift productivity was down 6.6%, and the second shift productivity is down 7.7%.  In Los Angeles, the first shift productivity was down 14.5%, while the second shift is down 4.1%. 
  • In Oakland, gross container moves per hour performed on the first shift were off 37% from the normal level.  On the second shift, productivity was off 31%. 
  • In Portland, first shift productivity was down 28.6%; second shift was down 29.5%. 
  • In Tacoma, first shift productivity was off 22.9%, while second shift was off 13.8%. 
  • In Seattle, productivity on the first shift was down 34%.  Second shift productivity there was off 21%.

The economic impact of continuing to limp along at one-fifth to one-third down in productivity is staggering, ranging from the loss of millions of dollars in revenues to the shippers and terminal operators and stevedore companies, to continued delays in loading and unloading of the cargo of thousands of customers, to continued concerns about perishable goods and holiday deliveries and the negative drag on the economy.

The Union’s refusal to return to work at a normal and reasonable rate of speed has meant that the massive backlog of cargo and ships has not been substantially reduced.  From October 9 to October 21, the number of dry cargo vessels at Los Angeles/Long Beach declined by only one ship – 101 to 100 – while the overall number of ships in West Cost ports remained close to 200: a total of 194 ships, compared with 224 twelve days earlier.

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