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West Coast Ports To Halt Loading, Unloading Operations This Weekend


The Pacific Maritime Association says it won't have any vessels loaded or unloaded at 29 West Coast ports, including Seattle and Tacoma, this weekend.

The association, which represents port terminal operators, says it doesn’t make sense to keep paying workers engaged in what employers call a months-long work slowdown.

“After three months of union slowdowns, it makes no sense to pay extra for less work, especially if there is no end in sight to the union’s actions which needlessly brought West Coast ports to the brink of gridlock,” PMA spokesman Wade Gates said in a statement.

The longshore workers and the employer group have been locked in a contentious contract negotiation for about nine months, and the contract expired in July. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has blamed the slowdown in operations on other problems at the ports, such as a shortage of truck chassis for carrying containers.

Michael Belzer, an economics professor at Wayne State University, says the temporary shutdown shows that contract talks between the two sides are rocky.

“You’d like to see negotiations take place inside the negotiating room and not to see it spill over into the public, but when it does spill over into the public, which it has done, that generally is a sign of more conflict to come,” Belzer said.


ILWU International President Robert McEllrath said in a statement Thursday that there are just a few remaining issues to hammer out at the table and that the two sides are “very close” to an agreement. 

In a statement, the union called the PMA's suspension of loading and unloading this weekend "a dangerous and unnecessary game of brinkmanship" and "a not-too-disguised effort to intimidate the ILWU membership." 

Michael LeRoy, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says he thinks a resolution is still a long way off. 

"This is an industry marked by really hard bargaining," LeRoy said. "These are folks who just - they don't compromise."

LeRoy says recent developments are reminiscent of the longshore workers' lockout in 2002. The ports resumed operations after President George W. Bush invoked the Taft-Hartley Act and obtained a court order to open them. 

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.