Worker Shortage Shutters LA, Long Beach Port Terminals

Image: International Longshore and Warehouse Association.

Every marine cargo terminal within the San Pedro Bay port complex was forced to temporarily close late last week due to a severe labor shortage, and the laborers and their employers have offered differing reasons as to why.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal employers, said April 7 that the worker shortage was due to “a concerted action” by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union “to withhold labor” at the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex the evening of April 6 and during the following day shift.

According to a statement from terminal operator Maersk, ILWU Local 13 crane operators and top handler drivers decided to “reject their job assignments that were ordered by the employers for the evening’s second shift,” and that this impacted all Los Angeles and Long Beach terminals.

“As a result, no operations were performed on the night shift,” the company stated. “Every terminal in the harbor canceled all vessel, yard, rail and gate operations.”

According to the PMA, workers who did show up for their shift were sent home due to a lack of dockworkers members to operate the terminals.

“The union’s coordinated actions are occurring while negotiations for a new coastwise contract continue,” the PMA said in its statement. “These actions undermine confidence in West Coast ports, and threaten to further accelerate the diversion of discretionary cargo to Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports.”

“The health of the Southern California and state economy,” the statement continues, “depend on the ability of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to stem this market share erosion.”

However, Local 13, the division that represents longshore workers at the adjoining ports, provided an explanation for the worker shortage.

“Local 13 held its monthly membership meeting (on the evening of April 6) as is its contractual right,” the union said in a statement. “Several thousand union members attend the monthly meeting.”

During the gathering in question, outgoing Local 13 President Ramon Ponce de Leon, Jr. swore in incoming President Gary Herrera.

The union also had an explanation for the following day’s shortage.

“On Friday, April 7 … union members who observe religious holidays took the opportunity to celebrate (Good Friday) with their families,” the ILWU said. “Cargo operations are ongoing as longshore workers at the ports remain on the job.”

As of last weekend, operations at the two ports had returned to normal, sources have said. The shortage only affected the LA-Long Beach port complex and not those at the Port of Oakland or at other major West Coast ports that also use ILWU labor.

By Mark Edward Nero