Dockworkers warned of company lockouts
By Simon Avery
LOS ANGELES Longshore workers will be locked out of their jobs at West Coast ports if they stage a slowdown during labor negotiations this spring, warned the head of a group representing shipping and terminal companies.
"We will not use a lockout as a negotiating tactic" but the International Longshore and Warehouse Union will not be allowed to choke off the flow of goods through ports when contract talks begin May 6, said Joseph Miniace, chief executive of the Pacific Maritime Association.
The ILWU labor contract expires June 30.
During the last round of negotiations three years ago, an ILWU slowdown reduced port capacity by as much as 70 percent in some locations, Miniace contended. "We won't accept that again," he said Wednesday.
Union spokesman Steve Stallone said he was unaware of any slowdown during the last round of contract talks.
In its 53-year history on the docks, the ILWU has only called one strike, which lasted for eight months during 1971-72.
"We are not looking for a strike. We are looking for a contract," he added.
The ILWU contends that Miniace, who has negotiated with unions for 35 years, wants to transfer work to non-unionized, offsite employees.
"He's the one making it tough. We're being cooperative. Before he showed up on the scene, we've always been able to make a deal," Stallone said.
Stakes in the negotiations are huge. Nearly 8 percent of the nation's gross domestic product and 4 million jobs are tied to operations of the West Coast ports.
The PMA is demanding new technology that would eliminate some of the best-paying union jobs in the country.
"They've got a pretty good deal," Miniace said of unionized port workers. "They don't work too hard and make a lot of money."
The Los Angeles and Long Beach port complex, which handles the bulk of West Coast shipments, has become "the most expensive and inefficient port in the world," he said.
The complex is the world's third-largest port, behind Singapore and Hong Kong, yet it handles only 3,200 cargo containers per acre each year while Singapore handles nearly 18,000, Miniace said.
Productivity has increased only 4 percent during the last decade, compared to a 40 percent average rise for the entire U.S. manufacturing sector, Miniace said.
U.S. workers still use chalk sticks to mark containers while modernized ports in Asia and Europe are using satellites, optical sensors and robots to track and move their cargo, he said.
Miniace argues that a computer system set up 15 years ago protects the jobs of ILWU clerks, whose average annual wage is $118,800, by requiring data to be re-keyed at various points through the system, he said.
Miniace wants workers at the docks, container yards and gates connected to one networked central data center.
"We are not looking for war on the waterfront. We are looking for enhancement on the waterfront," he said.
The union called the statistics misleading and said productivity has increased significantly.
Container growth at the ports nearly tripled in the last decade while the number of ILWU workers grew 19 percent, from 8,500 to 10,500, Stallone said.