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Port Terminal Operators Say Longshore Union Is Slowing Work In Seattle And Tacoma

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The operators of West Coast port terminals say the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is engaged in a work slowdown at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. The two sides have been negotiating for about six months to reach a new contract.

The union denounced the employers' claim as a "dishonest media offensive" that will delay progress at a critical moment in the contract negotiations. The claim, the union said, is designed to "to deflect responsibility from a growing congestion problem that is plaguing major West Coast ports."

The Pacific Maritime Association represents terminal operators at ports up and down the West Coast. The contract covering more than 13,000 workers at 29 ports expired in July and the employer group says the union opted not to agree to a temporary extension.

Now the employers say union members are slowing down work by 40 to 60 percent. 

"We remain committed to good faith bargaining until we can reach an agreement," said Wade Gates, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association. "But it’s extremely difficult to have meaningful negotiations when the longshoremen are deliberately slowing production in order to pressure the companies."

Gates says the two sides had a gentlemen’s agreement after the contract expired to continue normal operations until a new deal was reached.

In a statement, the union called that a "bold-faced lie."

"No such agreement was ever made, nor could it be made given the parties' historic disagreement regarding the definition of `normal operations' - a disagreement that has been the subject of arbitrations for decades," the union said. 

However, the employers' group points to a press release issued jointly with the union in July that says: "While there will be no contract extension, cargo will keep moving, and normal operations will continue at the ports until an agreement can be reached between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)."

Gates says it’s a bad time for a slowdown during the middle of the holiday shipping season. It also comes at a critical time for the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, which just announced a plan to operate together as a way to attract more business after losing market share to other ports.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.