Port terminal operators announce temporary suspension

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - No ships will be loaded or unloaded at 29 West Coast ports over the weekend.

The Pacific Maritime Association which represents 70 terminal operators and cargo shipping companies along the West Coast announced Friday that they are shutting down most port operations in response to what they call a deliberate work slowdown by workers in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union whose contract expired July 1, 2014.

The ILWU and PMA have been in contract talks for nine months and a union spokesman told KTVU that Friday's negotiations at PMA headquarters in San Francisco ended about 5 p.m. with no contract deal.

The PMA said yard, rail and gate operations may continue at the discretion of terminal management.

PMA spokesman Wade Gates told KTVU Friday, "The message to the customers are we're doing the best we can. If the union is going to work at 40-50-60 percent below normal and continue their slowdowns, then we really don't have a choice."

ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees fired back. "This is a shocking development to have to companies close the ports down on the weekend in the middle of this congestion mess that been affecting customers for the better part of 2014," Merrilees told KTVU.

Merrilees said he believes the shipping companies' action is "a pressure tactic."

Every day without a deal is dealing a blow to the region's economy.

Truck drivers at the Port of Oakland waited to load and unload shipping containers before the weekend shutdown. For thousands of truck drivers no loads this weekend means no pay.

"Just waiting, waiting all the time, all day in the line, don't make nothing," said Carlos Espinosa, a truck driver who only gets paid if he carries a load.

PMA's president Jim McKenna issued a statement Wednesday in a YouTube video saying, "These slowdowns are having the same result as a worker strike except that workers are still getting a paycheck."

"Full-time workers earn an average of $147,000 annually in wages along with fully paid healthcare," McKenna continues in the video.

He added that workers also get a pension and as part of PMA's "all in" offer to the ILWU members, "The PMA offer would raise the average wage of a fulltime longshore worker to more than $160,000 per year and would maintain the fully paid healthcare."

Union spokesman Merrilees says the PMA number is inaccurate and misleading, because union workers' pay in the last contract was $26 to $36 dollars an hour, which amounts to some $75,000 dollars a year. The union says the main sticking points are work rules, procedures, and safety measures.

For customers caught in the middle, the weekend stoppage means yet another blow to their bottom line.

"We have orders that have containers that are supposed to be here," said Bill Aboudi, President of AB Trucking in Oakland, "We received the orders in December and they're still not off the ships."

"I think there needs to be intervention from the government because it's destroying our economy," Aboudi told KTVU.

A federal mediator has been at the table since last month. The West Coast port operations and contract negotiations are expected to resume on Monday.