Shippers suspend weekend cargo loading at U.S. West Coast ports

Fri Feb 6, 2015 9:09pm EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The loading and unloading of freighters will be suspended at all 29 U.S. West Coast ports this weekend, shipping companies said on Friday, citing chronic cargo backups that the shippers and dockworkers union have blamed on each other during months of labor tensions.

But terminal yard, rail and gate operations at the ports, handling nearly half of U.S. maritime trade and over 70 percent of imports from Asia, will go on at the discretion of terminal managers through Saturday and Sunday, the Pacific Maritime Association said.

The announcement added to the discord surrounding negotiations of a new labor contract for 20,000 dockworkers, represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, that have dragged on for nearly nine months.

"In light of ongoing union slowdowns up and down the coast which have brought the ports almost to a standstill, PMA member companies finally have concluded that they will no longer continue to pay workers premium pay for diminished productivity," the association said in a brief statement.

It said vessel loading and unloading operations were scheduled to resume on Monday, while yard operations - moving unloaded cargo containers for truck and rail delivery to customers - would continue at terminal operators' discretion.

The union, insisting the parties were near a settlement in the federally mediated talks, branded the shippers' move another act of public posturing that distracted from negotiations.

Two days earlier, the PMA's chief executive, James McKenna, warned that ports plagued by worsening cargo congestion were nearing the point of complete gridlock.

The companies have repeatedly accused the union of orchestrating work slowdowns to gain leverage in negotiations that have dragged on for nine months   Continued...

Ships gather off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California in this aerial photo taken February 6, 2015. REUTERS/Bob Riha, Jr.