Category Archives: Longshore

Ports of Tacoma and Seattle Urge Immediate PMA-ILWU Contract Resolution

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

The Port of Seattle issued a statement on February 12, 2015 urging the PMA and ILWU to reach a resolution to their contract dispute:

In light of US West Coast ports’ limited activity this weekend, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma continue to press the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union to resolve the impasse in contract negotiations.

The ports do not have a seat at the negotiating table, however we have been exercising the limited options available to try to mitigate impacts on our customers and to keep cargo moving.

We share the frustration of the farmers, manufacturers, retailers, truckers and warehouse and distribution operators, who are suffering collateral damage as they continue to lose billions of dollars and lay off employees.

A lockout or strike would put even more stress on the working people throughout our state who rely on ports for their livelihood.

Taken together, marine cargo operations in Tacoma and Seattle support more than 48,000 jobs across the region and provide a critical gateway for the export of Washington state products to Asia.

This protracted negotiation is resulting in widespread economic damage and will have a lasting impact on our state’s economy.

We risk losing our role as a critical gateway as shippers seek alternatives to West Coast ports.

gCaptain reported on the weekend suspension of cargo loading and unloading at west coast ports, noting that the Pacific Maritime Association said that terminal yard, rail and gate operations at the ports, which handle nearly half of U.S. maritime trade and more than 70 percent of imports from Asia, would go on at the discretion of terminal operators through the weekend.  gCaptain quoted a statement from the PMA: “In light of ongoing union slowdowns up and down the coast which have brought the ports almost to a standstill, PMA member companies finally have concluded that they will no longer continue to pay workers premium pay for diminished productivity.”

gCaptain’s report continued:

Announcement of the weekend suspension came two days after the chief labor negotiator for the companies at the 29 West Coast ports warned that waterfronts that have been plagued by severe cargo congestion in recent months were nearing the point of complete gridlock.

The companies have repeatedly accused the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 20,000 dockworkers, of deliberating orchestrating work slowdowns at the ports to gain leverage in contract negotiations that have dragged on for nine months

The union denies this and faulted the carriers themselves for the congestion, citing numerous changes in shipping practices as contributing factors.

The union also has downplayed the magnitude of the congestion, suggesting that management was exaggerating a crisis as a late-hour negotiation ploy.

Our local West Seattle Blog has been following the (lack of) progress between the PMA and ILWU.  The WSB reported on two days of horrible traffic between West Seattle and downtown, which was caused by a backlog of trucks crowding the surface streets around Terminal 18.  The following day, the traffic had returned to normal.  From an outisder’s perspective, it seemed that the drivers of Seattle had been used as a pawn in the match between PMA and ILWU.

(Photo by James Bratsanos)

Ports of Tacoma and Seattle urge President to Send Federal Mediators to Resolve PMA-ILWU Contract

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Those in the Puget Sound region cannot help but notice the presence of many more cargo ships than usual at anchor in our harbors.  On my commute home from downtown Seattle I pass by Elliott Bay, where giant cargo ships fill every corner.  I can look across to Manchester, across the Sound from West Seattle, and am surprised to see cargo ships at anchor behind Blake Island State Park. 

My favorite local news source, the West Seattle Blog, provided the details: 

It’s a visible effect of an alleged “slowdown” that comes six months into West Coast contract talks between the ILWU, which says it’s “congestion,” and the terminal operators of the Pacific Maritime Association, which accuses the ILWU of “orchestrated job actions.”

On November 21st, the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle sent a joint letter to President Obama seeking the assistance of a mediator to resolve the contract disputes, and published the following press release:

CEOs from the ports of Seattle and Tacoma sent a letter today urging President Barack Obama to assign federal mediators to resolve contract negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.   The two ports together form the third-largest container gateway in North America, representing a critical connection to Asia and Alaska.  (Read the full letter to President Obama.)

Six months without a contract signed.  Perhaps the Ports are right to ask for assistance through a mediator.  The comment stream on the WSB site is evidence that local public opinion varies wildly and feelings run deeply on this topic.

 

Photo credit:  West Seattle Blog

 

Sequester Whacks Injured Workers

Today’s post comes from guest author Jay Causey from Causey Law Firm.

Injured workers with claims under the Longshore & Harbor Workers Act and the Defense Base Act, who are awaiting hearings by federal administrative law judges (ALJs), have now had their cases seriously impacted by the Sequester.  The Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ), with District Offices in seven cities including San Francisco, schedules hearings not only in those cities but in other venues in the District.  The San Francisco office schedules hearings in San Diego, Seattle, Portland, Denver and elsewhere, and so-called Calendar Calls are scheduled in those cities by traveling ALJs. 

The Sequester has caused the San Francisco office…to cancel all travel by ALJs until at least October, when a new fiscal year for OALJ may refresh its travel budget.

The Sequester has caused the San Francisco office, which covers a larger geographical territory than any other, to cancel all travel by ALJs until at least October, when a new fiscal year for OALJ may refresh its travel budget.  No further Calendars in outlying cities will be scheduled until at least October.  In the meantime, the parties may agree to bring their witnesses to San Francisco for hearings (or agree to a telephonic hearing – rarely a good alternative), but both sides must to agree to the alternative process.  The cost of bringing the claimant and expert witnesses to San Francisco, even if jointly agreed to, makes that a mostly unrealistic option.

The cancellation of travel for ALJs makes the system even more unfair to claimants.

The likelihood is that, in claims where the insurance carrier is denying benefits, many carriers will simply choose to wait out the claimants for the many additional months delay the Sequester budget issue gives them.  An terribly-burdensome delay already exists in this system, as ALJ decisions on cases typically take one to two years to issue after the trial.  The cancellation of travel for ALJs makes the system even more unfair to claimants.  Because of the long delay in getting to a hearing and then to a decision, a large number of cases in which hearings are requested ultimately end up settling in an alternative dispute resolution process called “mediation,” as both sides wish to arrive at settlement without the work and expense of getting ready for trial and then a long wait for a decision.  A scheduled hearing is what mostly drives the parties to mediate these cases.  But with six months of cancelled Calendars in non-District Office cities,  claimants attorneys worry that insurance carriers will feel under far less pressure to bring these cases to the mediation table.

 

Photo credit: jaymallinphotos / Foter.com / CC BY-NC