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West Coast Ports Face 4-Day Shutdown In Labor Fight

Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) announced it would suspend the loading and unloading of container and other cargo ships today, this weekend and Monday, because of what it calls “a strike with pay” by 20,000 or more union workers. The stoppages comes after a two-day shutdown last week and amid a labor dispute between PMA, which represents port employers, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) that has crippled 29 West Coast ports for nine months.

“Retailers and the rest of the supply chain are frustrated beyond belief,” said Jonathan Gold, the National Retail Federation’s vice president for supply chain. “This stalemate is hurting American businesses, their employees and consumers.”

The two parties have been negotiating an expired labor contract since May and working without a contract since July. Last week PMA held a press conference in which it laid out a “comprehensive contract offer” designed to bring the talks to a conclusion, including boosting terminal employees’ average annual pay from $147,000 to $162,000 over five years, increasing workers’ maximum pensions and leaving health care terms intact. An agreement, however, could not be reached.

“The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock,” said Wade Gates, a spokesperson for the employer body, warning that congestion would soon be so severe that terminals would have to stop working entirely. “What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.”

In response, the union hired a small plane to capture photographs of empty tracts in allegedly clogged terminals in Southern California. “We want to go to work and they’re blaming us,” said ILWU International president Robert McEllrath. “There’s space on the docks to unload vessels, there’s cargo to be delivered and we’re here to do it, and we’re here to go to work.”