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UK Port Workers Start 8-Day Strike With Second Set to Follow

An eight-day strike at Britain’s largest port began Sunday, while workers in Liverpool ready for a separate strike as employers and workers clash over pay. 

More than 1,900 workers, who are members of the Unite union, began a demonstration Sunday at the Port of Felixstowe after being unable to reach an agreement with employers on wages. The strike marks the first at the port since 1989. 

Those on the picket line include crane drivers, tug boat operators and stevedores. 

The union is calling out the disparity between employer profits and what they are offering to workers in a theme that’s become common in contract negotiations throughout the transportation industry. 

“Felixstowe Docks and its associate companies have been prioritizing profits and dividends instead of giving their workers a decent share of the pie,” Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said in a statement Sunday. 

Graham went on to accuse the company of “siphoning off” money for its Hong Kong-based parent company and shareholders. 

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The port, which is owned by CK Hutchison Holdings, said Friday it is “disappointed” the union has not continued negotiations.  

“We recognize these are difficult times but, in a slowing economy, we believe that the company’s offer, worth over 8 percent on average in the current year and closer to 10 percent for lower paid workers, is fair,” the port said. 

The union has repeatedly cited the real inflation rate of 11.8 percent in contrast to what’s being offered. 

Felixstowe handles more than 4 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) each year. 

The port has said it has a contingency plan in place for the strike and that it’s been working with customers on how to best address service disruptions. 

Maersk last week announced a number of changes to its vessel arrival and departure schedules in response to the planned strike, with some arrivals either moved up or delayed. Three of its vessels are skipping Felixstowe entirely. 

Meanwhile, about 500 port operatives, also represented by the Unite union, agreed to a strike at the Liverpool ports. The union has not announced dates for the Liverpool strike, but said operations there would come “grinding to a halt.” 

More than 60 maintenance engineers, also in Liverpool, are voting on their own strike action, with ballots due in by Wednesday. Workers there are also in a dispute with employers on the review of wages and shifts.  

Crane Worldwide Logistics, a contract logistics provider, warned customers of “major disruptions” to supply chains resulting from the two UK disputes. 

The strikes come as two major contract negotiations continue in the U.S. for rail and port workers. 

Some 115,000 rail employees have been working without a contract for more than two years, as unions and employers disagree over pay and other benefits over the contract’s five-year term.  

The two parties are currently in a 30-day cooling off period that began last week following recommendations from a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) on terms of the contract. Most of the dozen unions have refrained from making any major announcements as they review the PEB report. However, a few signaled their disappointment, raising the possibility rail could still be in for a rocky stretch. 

At the West Coast ports, it was reported by the Wall Street Journal Friday that talks have slowed due to a disagreement over the awarding of work at a Port of Seattle terminal. However, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which is representing the more than 22,000 dockworkers in negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association, was quick to call out any reports of a breakdown in talks as “rumors.” 

“The union has no comment on unsourced rumors except to say that the parties continue to negotiate,” the ILWU said late Friday.