Port of Oakland's largest terminal sends workers home amidst labor dispute

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Port of Oakland officials say the labor dispute that shut down Oakland's largest terminal Wednesday, doesn't help the Port's efforts to clear a painful backlog of cargo caused by nine-months of a bitter labor battle.

There is also concern that shippers could pull out and take their business elsewhere if questions arise over the reliability of Oakland's operations.

Tension erupted about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. Managers at the SSA's Oakland International Container Terminal shut down yard and gate operations. The ILWU says 45 dock workers with were fired and sent home.

SSA Terminal managers reportedly wanted two people working on each crane, which they say is common at other port terminals. In a statement on SSA's behalf, the PMA stated, "ILWU LOCAL 10 is refusing to allow yard cranes to operate unless that number is increased to three. This is a demand that Local 10 made and dropped during negotiations that led to the tentative agreement."

The PMA says another conflict arose over SSA's request that union workers lock and unlock the chassis and containers.

Both of issues were raised during contract talks but later dropped by the union, according to the PMA.

Wednesday's labor dispute comes amidst a delicate truce between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) which represents 70 West Coast terminal operators and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (IWLU). Both sides agreed to a tentative deal after intervention by the Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in February, but the contract has not yet been ratified by the union's rank and file.

Truck drivers who had waited hours in line Wednesday, were left with no loads to carry.

Independent truck operator Bany Lopez said he drives from Sacramento to work at the Port of Oakland. No containers meant no money for him.

"You can't just shut down the port and expect somebody else, you know, not to make a living, you know. So they have to really think about that, not just themselves," Lopez told KTVU.

"We cannot make enough money to take home," said Ismael Ordaz, a truck driver who says he's the only breadwinner for his household of eight.

Port of Oakland officials say the other four terminals were operating at full capacity. Spokesman Mike Zampa said just four ships were waiting to dock compared to the queue of 20 vessels in mid-February.

"Recently we've heard the shipping lines are going to begin reinstating the calls and we expect full service back into Oakland within the next month or two," Zampa told KTVU.

Zampa says there is a concern that more of these labor glitches could ruin the Port's reputation. causing shippers to leave and take their business somewhere more reliable.

"Both sides need to get it settled. We need to get back to full operations quickly," Zampa said.

The Port of Oakland was one of 29 West Coast ports affected by prolonged labor contract negotiations between the union and shippers.

The stalled talks left workers without a contract after July 1, 2014 and triggered multiple shutdowns at the Port of Oakland, resulting in a backlog of cargo and ships waiting to be unloaded at ports up and down the West Coast. Key issues in the talks included the method for selecting arbitrators.

Union leaders are expected to present the contract to a caucus of 90 union members for review on March 30th. They will go over the final language before distributing copies to the entire membership for a ratification vote.