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Oakland Port Back to Normal After Worker Walkout

Terminal operations have resumed at the Port of Oakland, following Wednesday’s work stoppage over a local contract dispute. 

Workers walked off the job during the day shift, with several reports pointing to an issue over ship clerk pay. The stoppage involved workers from the Local 34 chapter of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). 

A spokesperson for the ILWU confirmed to Sourcing Journal the matter was a local issue and local action. 

SF Gate reported the walkout involved more than 200 open wage claims related to issues of being paid on time or for pay owed to employees.  

The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), the group representing terminal operators and shipping lines in contract talks with the union, said in a statement to Sourcing Journal Thursday the worker actions came “without warning.”

“Taking an action to shut down the port impacts workers and businesses far beyond the terminals themselves. Discussions with Local 34 took place later in the day,” the PMA said. “This apparent attempt to try to exact leverage in local negotiations is counterproductive.”

The stoppage hit the port’s three international marine terminals, with operations resuming during Wednesday’s night shift. Normal operations of the three terminals continue Thursday, a Port of Oakland spokesperson confirmed.  

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The port spokesperson told Sourcing Journal workers are likely to use Thursday and Friday to get caught up on containers not processed during the work stoppage, with port officials not expecting a significant impact to the facility’s monthly cargo volume totals or congestion.  

The Port of Oakland was hit hard in July following a week-long protest by truck drivers rallying against California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). Truckers argue the law, which applies a test for employers in determining a worker’s classification, takes away their right to remain independent contractors. 

Oakland’s July cargo volume tumbled nearly 28 percent, with port officials estimating it would take about a month to clear the backlog that resulted from that disruption. 

The ILWU is currently negotiating the contract for roughly 22,000 West Coast dockworkers with the PMA. Workers have been without a contract since July 1 when the previous one expired. 

Port of Los Angeles executive director Gene Seroka told Bloomberg last month a new agreement “will probably take some several months and there is no hard deadline on this.” 

Both sides at the negotiating table have confirmed multiple times in public statements they’re committed to getting a deal done with no disruptions to cargo movement during the process.

However, a dispute over stevedoring work in Seattle and which union’s workers would be awarded the contract was taken up with the National Labor Relations Board in September, in a move the ILWU warned would interrupt the collective bargaining process. 

The ILWU contends the work of cold ironing is supposed to go to its workers and not the International Association of Machinists (IAM). Last month, Mediterranean Shipping Co. joined the fray in filing a motion suggesting terminal operator SSA Marine should award the work to the ILWU’s workers, according to a Bloomberg report citing NLRB documents. 

At stake with the extended contract talks is the long-term impact of shipments routed to the West Coast, with many wondering how much of those containers will permanently shift to the East and Gulf coasts in a bid to bypass the perennial issue of labor disruptions stemming from the collective bargaining process.

Los Angeles’ Seroka addressed that question last month during a briefing

“There’s always a concern,” he said at that time. “You want to stay ahead of the market and ahead of the game.”

Seroka went on to say “it’s going to be a challenge” to bring back cargo routed to alternative ports, but “we’re going to do our level best” in addressing those re-directed containers.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey confirmed last week the East Coast port was the country’s busiest in September, marking the second month in a row the facility claimed the top spot. 

The Port of New York and New Jersey reported handling 842,219 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in September, which was about on par with what it handled in the previous month. The volume equates to a nearly 35 percent increase from what it recorded in September 2019.