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Breaking News: All Eyes to the West

Excerpt from American Shipper | By Chris Dupin | July 11, 2014

The attention of carriers and shippers is focused Friday morning on events in Los Angeles and Long Beach, where a potentially volatile labor situation is unfolding.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and their employers, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association, are expected to resume negotiations on a new employment contract for some 20,000 longshoremen working at 29 West Coast ports to replace the one that expired July 1, but protests involving port truck drivers as well as Teamsters trying to organize local drayage companies could disrupt activity in the port.

The ILWU and PMA have continued to bargain after the deadline and promised, on July 1, “while there will be no contract extension, cargo will keep moving, and normal operations will continue at the ports until an agreement can be reached.”

However, early this week, the two sides announced they were taking a three-day hiatus from those talks while the ILWU leadership tried to negotiate with another group of employers, the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers. Significantly, the union and PMA said they would extend their contract — which includes arbitration provisions — from 8 a.m. Pacific Time Tuesday July 8 through 8 a.m. Pacific Time July 11.

Meanwhile, this week, another group of workers — port truckers backed by the Teamsters who are involved in a long effort to be recognized as employees rather than independent owner-operators — have been conducting protests aimed at getting recognition from three drayage companies doing business in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach —  Green Fleet Systems, Total Transportation Services, Inc., and Pacific 9 Transportation. They are picketing the truck terminals of the three companies and marine terminals in the port. On Tuesday, ILWU members honored the picket lines at four terminals thrown up by the truck drivers, but  went back to work when an arbitrator ruled that the Teamster picket lines were not “bona fide.”

This morning, unless the ILWU-PMA contract is extended, a contract is reached or the Teamsters call off their protests, all bets are off.

If the trucker protests continue today — and on Thursday the Teamsters issued a press release promising “widespread chaos” at the port — there is the possibility that their picket lines will be honored by ILWU members.

With no arbitration process in place, the ILWU members might chose to honor those picket lines once again. That could shut down terminals in the nation’s busiest port complex.

Barbara Maynard, a spokesman for the Teamster group Justice for Port Truck Drivers, said Thursday evening the group had no indication of the ILWU reaction if its members picket today.

This morning’s drama follows a day of protests and appearances by Teamsters around Los Angeles and Long Beach. Thursday morning, they sent several dozen members and their allies to the meeting of the Port of Los Angeles Commission.

Ron Herrera, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 396, said the drivers have employers that make them pay for business expenses and that some of them were part of the working poor.

“The port of LA is one of the richest ports in the world where economic prosperity flourishes,” he said. “But there are companies operating in this port violating the law and abusing these workers, and we should all not accept that.”

He asked the commissioners “to speak to these companies, to sit them down with the Teamsters and negotiate a good solid contract so these men and women can raise their families.”

Randy Cammack, vice president of Teamsters Joint Council 42 asked the commissioner to ban companies from the port who violate the law, saying the port’s clean truck program requires companies to comply with federal and state laws.

Fred Potter, the director of the Teamsters Port Division, alleged the drayage companies have violated the National Labor Relations Act and Fair Labor Standards Act, and have misclassified their workers.

Noting that truck drivers have struck the port previously, he complained to  the commissioner that the port and the mayor of the city “have been silent. Where is the voice that says, ‘We will not tolerate lawbreakers; we will not tolerate companies that take away their rights?’

“You have an obligation to the people, we’re asking you to fulfill that obligation, stand up.” Gene Seroka, the former APL executive who recently became the port’s new executive director, noted he had met with the Teamster representatives and promised, “We will not ignore you.”

In a statement, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “I take allegations regarding worker safety, poor working conditions, and unfair labor practices very seriously. Accordingly, I am directing my harbor commission to fully investigate the serious health and safety issues raised at today’s commission meeting and report back to me. While this investigation continues, I urge both parties to work with port executives and the harbor commission to ensure that this vital economic engine continues to serve this nation.”