More work delays at Port of Oakland despite backlog of cargo

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) -- The Port of Oakland returned to full operations Monday night after a weekend dispute disrupted the tentative truce struck between the port terminal operators and longshore workers last Friday.

Longshore workers reported to the Port of Oakland terminals to resume the 7 p.m. night shift. Cranes moved containers off ships, making a little progress in the big backlog. Some say containers are running more than one month behind their scheduled delivery dates.

"I worked more in the last few days than I have in the last few months," ILWU member Jeff Biddinger told KTVU.

Workers with ILWU's Local 10 showed up at the hiring hall near San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf and reportedly answered the call for about 180 jobs. It was a rare night shift after terminal operators had refused for months to fill the higher paid night, weekend, and holiday shifts.

"It's been like a relief when they started sending all the work again. It's like, finally get back to work," Biddinger said.

A dispute Sunday morning created tension in the already fragile relationship between port operators and the ILWU dock workers, following Friday's tentative deal.

Oakland terminal operators sent all dockworkers home after a crew at one Oakland terminal declared they'd take a unit break, meaning all workers stop at once instead of staggering their breaks.

"The area arbitrator ruled yesterday that the longshoremen there in Oakland had conducted an illegal work stoppage," said Wade Gates, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents 70 terminal operators on the West Coast.

Longshore workers told KTVU it was a misunderstanding. They say the unit breaks had been going on during the nine-month labor dispute and no one told the rank and file there had been an agreement to stop.

"It's just a power play of Pacific Maritime Association that's shut it down," said Benny Rosales, an ILWU Local 10 dock worker.

"No one told us about it so these guys just went on break and then they fired all of them," Biddinger said, "They need better communication."

Even with work resuming Monday night, Port of Oakland officials say it could take more than a month to clear the backlog of containers that remain stacked up in massive walls, waiting to be moved.

Truck drivers are frustrated, but just glad now for every load they can deliver.

"Today was relatively smooth. We were able to get in and out without any problems, so I was happy," said Maurice Bigbee, a Port of Oakland truck driver.

Port officials told KTVU that eight ships were being loaded or unloaded Monday night. More than a dozen ships were waiting their turn for a space to unload.