ILWU locked-out on West Coast for 2 days

EL Southern California logistic map

With contract negotiations dragging on since July 1, 2014, the collective of port managers in the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) at 29 West Coast intermodal container ports have locked out the International Longshore & Warehouse Union for the weekend of February 7-8, 2015. Despite PMA conceding and agreeing to pay 100% of longshore workers' health care costs, in addition to covering the "Cadillac Tax" under Obamacare and raising base wages 5% (and guaranteeing pensions of up to $88,800 a year), the union still has unmet demands; with port congestion reaching a crisis point, PMA is playing a game of brinksmanship by locking out the union at all West Coast ports.

Some background to the dispute is necessary. Here's a thumbnail sketch (apologies to those who've seen this analysis on libcom before):

What "labor" in the U.S. lacks today is a class analysis and an ability to act in the interest of all working class people, not only in the U.S. but worldwide. Instead we get most unions practicing a circle-the-wagons, narrowly self-interested scope of activity that doesn't go beyond their own members, based on an extremely myopic view of society and the world. That is, unless they're stumping for the Democratic Party, then they pull out all the -- mostly financial -- stops. A labor historian wrote a few years ago that "unions in the U.S. today have all the passion for social change as an insurance company." Sure, there are exceptions, like two of the unions, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) and International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), that survived their expulsion from the CIO in the anti-communist witch-hunts in 1949-1950, when they were kicked out with 10 other unions, mostly due to refusing the loyalty oaths of Taft-Hartley and having Communist Party members.

UE, like the ILWU, survived McCarthyism and more recently led the inspiring occupation of the Republic Windows and Door factory in Chicago for 5 days in December 2008. They continue to do militant and inspiring actions -- including the successful 3-week strike by warehouse workers in Elwood, Illinois in 2012. But clearly the ILWU is in trouble. Since UE and ILWU are a tenuous connection with class struggle of previous eras, we wish it weren't so. We don't want to see our sisters and brother who are some of the highest paid industrial workers in North America get crushed, but present conditions don't bode too well for longshore workers on the West Coast. First there was the awful compromise to get back into the EGT facility in Longview, WA, that essentially killed the hiring hall, among many other terrible concessions. On February 27, 2013 Mitsui locked out ILWU Local 4 from their United Grain terminal in Vancouver, Washington when they refused to accept the same conditions as EGT workers in Longview. Then on May 4, 2013, Marubeni locked out ILWU Local 8 workers at its Columbia Grain terminal in Portland, Oregon for the same reason. They only went back to work when the lockout ended, after 1 1/2 years, with provisions calling for equalizing the master contract to conform with the one at EGT in Longview, which sets the new standard. And will virtually eliminate the hiring hall and hard-won working conditions that go back to the 1930s.

Here's what they lost in Longview, and what will effect the master grain handlers contract:

    • ILWU Local 40 shipping clerks had all their positions eliminated
    • management, at its discretion, can reject any worker dispatched from the ILWU hiring hall; reminiscent of Article 9.43, management can make any worker a "permanent regular employee" outside the hiring hall
    • Article VIII (section 8.01c) makes anyone working at EGT basically an "at-will" employee who can be fired for any reason
    • allows working at long as 13-hour shifts (previous limit was 10 hours)
    • surrenders the right to stop work for health and safety concerns -- workers must continue working and file a formal grievance
    • ILWU workers will no longer be in the control room at the highly-automated EGT terminal, which will be operated by management -- giving them complete control over the work process
    • the union must order worker to cross Occupy-style "community pickets"; if this is violated 3 times, the contract is void

The foundation of the earlier gains, ILWU's Magna Carta, came out of the victories at the end of the 83-day west coast maritime strike in 1934. The greatest upsurge in this was the 4-day San Francisco General Strike, sparked when 2 striking workers were shot dead by the cops. The ILWU was born with another strike in 1936 protecting those victories and giving the union sole control of the hiring hall. The ILWU had 1,399 legal and illegal work stoppages until another major strike consolidated all those gains in 1948. So the ILWU was born and became the "Lord of the Docks" with direct action, and that alone. But this form of struggle didn't come out of nowhere. Maritime and waterfront workers in San Francisco had repeatedly attempted to create class-based organizations of all workers, the first during the 1886 waterfront strike, then again with a strike of all waterfront workers in 1893, then with another near-general strike in 1901, then again in 1916 (to reaction to which framed labor organizer Tom Mooney, sending him to prison for 22 years). The success in 1934, the effects of which remain to this day, began with waterfront organizing in the 1850s and continuous attempts to create not only an industrial union, but to work in class solidarity with all other sectors along the transportation chain. As Carey McWilliams put it in California: The Great Exception, workers conceived these struggles as "class-aganist-class."

Many of those gains were eroded with the Modernization and Mechanization Agreement (M&M) in 1960-1961, but from 1936 through that time ILWU had grandfathered itself into a technically illegal "closed shop." It was the greatest example ever in the in U.S. of workers' control of the work process, surpassing even IWW Local 8 which had a closed shop on the Philly waterfront from 1913-1922 (also won with a streak of victorious strikes). Here are the major gains the IWLU won through strike and direct action:

    • the aforementioned union-controlled hiring hall; it's a joint management-union hiring hall in name only
    • "Work opportunity equalization," to eliminate the favoritism of the shape-up. The longshore worker with the least hours worked, got the first shot at new job dispatches. To ensure this, dispatchers are elected annually
    • seniority in regards to hatches worked with a ship was at port (this was with the break-bulk system), to prevent the arbitrary decisions of walking-bosses
    • load limits (by weight) for the safety of the longshore crews unloading cargo

But the M&M contract of 1960 removed these gains through section 9.43, a clause in the contract that allowed for "steady men" to work directly for management, outside the hiring hall and voiding work equalization. It was disputed in the 1966 contract, but this breaking of closed shop protections directly resulted in the coastwide strike of 1971, the last ever for the ILWU. It went on for 134 days, the longest ever longshore strike in the U.S, but it failed to dislodge the hated "clause 9.43." And since then the ILWU has done righteous actions like boycotting ships from post-junta Chile and with munitions headed for El Salvador, in addition to refusing to work ships from apartheid in South Africa. The ILWU has invoked contractual privileges to shut West Coast ports in solidarity with the struggle of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, to celebrate May Day in 2008, and to protest the police murder of Oscar Grant. They attempted an unauthorized contractual shut down on April 4, 2011 in solidarity with fight against Governor Walker’s anti-labor legislation in Wisconsin, for which they fought bitter legal prosecution through the courts.

Right now, ILWU has been without a contract for the 29 container ports on the west coast since July 1, 2014. But they're being demonized in the media, with threats of the 10-day lock-out in 2002 being done by management representatives in the PMA again because they are obviously doing a "work-to-rule" slowdown (which International spokespeople foolishly deny). But their strategy today is to go-it-alone, the ILWU International having left the AFL-CIO in 2013 over jurisdictional disputes with other unions over portside work, like their fight with IBEW over work on reefers in Portland and with the IAM over chassis repairs at all ports. International President Bob McEllrath comes out of a longshoring family at the Vancouver, WA grain handling port. But his choice of Leal Sundet as Coast Committeeman and key strategist is fatally flawed, as Sundet formerly worked for the class enemy, the bosses in the PMA. But, sadly, it appears the "Lords of the Docks" have been dethroned by their inability to fight to defend past gains. The best McEllrath can do to protest the lockout is make lame xenophobic statements about "PMA employers, based largely overseas."

Frankly, the ILWU cut ties with the Occupy Movement just when they needed it in the struggle with EGT at Longview. Presently, they cut ties with all other unions just when they need it in their current contract negotiations. The motto of the ILWU was taken directly from the IWW: "An injury to one is an injury to all." Too bad they stopped practicing it. At the major west coast ports, like LA/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma and Seattle, the drayage truckers are mostly over-worked underpaid immigrants, many working under the owner-operator/independent contractor legal scam, with whom the ILWU has built absolutely no solidarity -- to the point of crossing their picket lines. There is outright conflict and racial tension between longshore workers at port troqueros on the docks of major ports.

Apparently, one of the final sticking points in the contract negotiations between the union at the PMA are ILWU's demand that it be given unilateral authority to fire arbitrators who are used to settle workplace issues, like "community pickets" under health and safety provisions of the contract. The arbitrator at the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex is a former longshore worker, but the ILWU now finds his decisions -- which are binding -- to not be going their way and want to replace him.

So at present, the ILWU is a bad model for anything, unless they break out of their cocoon and start practicing solidarity and class unity with all the other workers on the waterfront and along the supply chain.

With the present lockout, the ILWU actually needs to return to their time-proven tradition of direct action, striking, and cross-sectoral waterfront solidarity to protect their gains. If those actions are illegal, they need to find ways around the law to win. They did it in the past and they can do it now (as mentioned before, they had 1,399 legal and illegal strikes between 1934 and 1948). But it will have to be class-wide and draw in all other waterfront and supply chain workers, not only on the West Coast but on the other side of the Pacific and across the planet, becoming an internationalist movement of working class solidarity supporting struggles everywhere.

Posted By

Supply Chain Re...
Feb 9 2015 00:13



Attached files


Feb 9 2015 12:52

In German language media they say that the reason for the with port congestion are strikes and slow down strikes by the workers. ( But in your article there is no word of strikes in the ports. What is the reason for the difference?

Supply Chain Re...
Feb 10 2015 06:28
meinberg wrote:
In German language media they say that the reason for the with port congestion are strikes and slow down strikes by the workers. ( But in your article there is no word of strikes in the ports. What is the reason for the difference?


There's been a few cases where longshore workers refused to be dispatched or even walked off the docks (like in Portland, Oregon), but largely the slowdown is self-organized local-by-local -- without the consent of the International, who constantly deny any slowdown and blame the congestion on management. There's no contract, so technically slowdowns are not illegal (although courts have ruled otherwise).

During the 10-day lockout in 2002 when PMA attempted this -- failed -- maneuver to break the ILWU, news media the world over called it a strike too.

EDIT: the ILWU is not doing slowdown strikes because what they're doing is work-to-rule and extra inspections of container-hauling chassis, which grinds the pace of work down to nothing.

Supply Chain Re...
Feb 10 2015 06:57

Even the Invisible Committee bought the lies of the bourgeois media about the lockout in 2002:

The Coming Insurrection wrote:
That is what the American longshoremen understood when they struck in October, 2002 in support of three hundred jobs, blocking the main ports on the West Coast for ten days. The American economy is so dependent on goods coming from Asia that the cost of the blockade was over a billion dollars per day.

First, it was a lockout by management, not a strike, putting longshore workers out of work and without wages for 10 days.

But the "billion dollars per day" is another lie poached from management press releases. Peter Hall, in his excellent “We’d Have to Sink the Ships”: Impact Studies and the 2002 West Coast Port Lockout, does an excellent job of refuting these totally fabricated costs. The scheme was executed by Walmart's front group West Coast Waterfront Coalition. Remember, this was almost exactly one year after the September 11 attacks and commercial trans-Pacific traffic was down considerably due to weak demand. The major shippers were able to plan ahead and weaken their competition. Anyway, most shippers diverted their cargoes to other ports -- or by other means like airfreight -- and the cost to those executing the lockout was negligible. The $2,000,000,000 day in lost revenue was simply spectacular scare-mongering.

Feb 10 2015 08:28

The ILWU also divides its members into "A" cards and "B" cards. These cards are treated as inheritable property.

Feb 10 2015 10:31

I'm not sure I understand correctly, what you are saying, so I try to put it in my words. I hope I don't bore you:

Before the lockout, there were some strikes in some ports (walk off or refusing to dispatch). Those strikes were voted for by the locals, so the workers were protected by the union(?).

Also the ILWU decided that the workers should only work-to-rule and do extra inspections to slow the work down. (Since when do they work-to-rule? What is the difference between a slowdown strike and work-to-rule?)

The "International" tries to play all these activities of the members down.

One last question: What does this sentence mean? That slowdowns are illegal, when the workers have a contract?

Empire Logistics wrote:
There's no contract, so technically slowdowns are not illegal (although courts have ruled otherwise)

Supply Chain Re...
Feb 10 2015 16:40
IAmRoot wrote:
The ILWU also divides its members into "A" cards and "B" cards. These cards are treated as inheritable property.

Don't forget the "casuals," making it 3 tiers.

meinberg wrote:
I'm not sure I understand correctly, what you are saying, so I try to put it in my words. I hope I don't bore you:

Before the lockout, there were some strikes in some ports (walk off or refusing to dispatch). Those strikes were voted for by the locals, so the workers were protected by the union(?).

The ILWU dispatches workers out of a hiring hall (in most cases, but some union "steady men" work directly for the employer outside the hall). Work rules give longshore workers lots of leeway to refuse work, even after being dispatched. Crews don't need the union's authorization to do this. But usually it involves a grievance. But strikes and slowdowns technically can't happen when the contract is in effect, but it expired on July 1, 2014. So without a contract, there's no legal prohibitions to walking off the job, but when management challenges this in court judges often rule that the terms of contract carry over and imply a continuation of the no-strike clause.

But none of the locals took a strike vote, simply because the International made an pact with PMA to not stop work when the contract expired. They would be defying the International and could be overruled, like what happened to Local 21 in Longview, Washington in 2012.

meinberg wrote:
Also the ILWU decided that the workers should only work-to-rule and do extra inspections to slow the work down. (Since when do they work-to-rule? What is the difference between a slowdown strike and work-to-rule?)

The "International" tries to play all these activities of the members down.

Logistics trade journals, like the Journal of Commerce, are full of stories about how the secrecy of PMA-ILWU negotiations might be driving these autonomous worker shopfloor actions -- like yesterday's article "Are ILWU negotiators withholding PMA offer from rank-and-file members?" The International can defer enforcement of the contract when slowdowns happen to arbitrators, but that can't happen with no contract. Rank-and-file workers are obviously angry and expressing this through exercising their control of the work process. The Locals must be aware of this, but can't say so publicly to put themselves at odds with the International.

Working-to-rule, following all the safety procedures to the letter of the law, is a slowdown.

This wasn't mentioned in the original post, but at a couple West Coast ports ILWU is facing Rotterdam-style automation, where the Utility Tractor Rigs (UTR) and "bomb carts" (simple flatbed trailers, not chassis), will operate with automated driver-less vehicles. Also, gantry cranes will be fully automated too, as well as having on-dock rail (meaning less steps in unloading containers, requiring fewer workers). This modernization has been completed at the Long Beach Container Terminal (also called Middle Harbor, operated by Orient Overseas Container Line). It is currently being developed at the TraPac Terminal at the Port of Los Angeles, operated by Mitsui O.S.K Lines. The first North American port to be fully automated was APM's Virginia Terminal in Portsmouth, VA.

So automation will make more longshore workers redundant, who already saw their workforce reduced by 90% with containerization. ILWU is fighting to preserve jobs, so in current negotiations have already gotten PMA to concede right to maintenance and repair (M&R) of all truck chassis to the union -- even though many of the firms that own the chassis are not members of PMA. The slowdowns are being caused by a variety of factors (including massive new Super-Post-Panamax container ships and inefficiencies of railroads), but chassis inspections by longshore workers on the docks is a way of exercising their control over the work process now.

meinberg wrote:
One last question: What does this sentence mean? That slowdowns are illegal, when the workers have a contract?

Empire Logistics wrote:
There's no contract, so technically slowdowns are not illegal (although courts have ruled otherwise)

See above.

Feb 10 2015 17:23

Thx for your in-depth answer!

Supply Chain Re...
Feb 12 2015 01:42

This news flash just got posted on the Journal of Commerce to announce that the lockout is resuming:

Journal of Commerce wrote:
PMA to halt ship work on four of next five days

Joseph Bonney, Senior Editor | Feb 11, 2015 5:48PM EST

The Pacific Maritime Association said its members will suspend U.S. West Coast vessel operations on four of the next five days rather than provide longshoremen with holiday or weekend pay for “severely diminished productivity.”

Vessel operations by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union will be suspended coastwide on Thursday (Lincoln’s Birthday), Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Washington’s Birthday).

Yard, gate and rail operations will continue at terminal operators’ discretion, the PMA said. Southern California terminal operators will expand daytime vessel operations on non-holiday weekdays.

The PMA’s action was the most far-reaching in a series of shutdowns of vessel operations during the acrimonious, nine-month-long contract negotiations between the employer group and the ILWU.

Employers suspended vessel operations last weekend. During the last month, employers have suspended most vessel operations on night shifts in order to clear container backlogs before vessel loading and unloading resumed the following morning.

The weekend and holiday shutdowns are driven by financial as well as operational considerations. Weekend and holiday pay scales are at least 50 percent above basic longshore wages.

“What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates.

Work on weekends or holidays would range from $54 to $75 per hour for longshore workers and clerks, and between $77 and $92 per hour for foremen.

“PMA members have concluded that they will not conduct vessel operations on those dates, paying full shifts of ILWU workers such high rates for severely diminished productivity while the backlog of cargo at West Coast ports grows,” the employer association said in a statement.

Gridlock at West Coast ports has slowed supply chains and caused severe backups of ships off West Coast ports, and led to calls for President Obama to seek a back-to-work injunction if the ports are closed by a management lockout or union strike.

Fourteen container ships were among 22 vessels anchored off Los Angeles and Long Beach on Wednesday morning because of congestion, the Marine Exchange of Southern California reported.

Retailers, manufacturers and agricultural exporters say months of delays have cut into sales and forced shippers and receivers to scramble for alternatives including air freight. Several carriers are arranging “extra loader” voyages to deliver cargo to East Coast ports at rates reported to be in the range of $5,000 per 40-foot container.

The ILWU denies intentional slowdowns and has accused employers of curtailing vessel work in an attempt to pressure the union. "This is an effort to put economic pressure on our members and to gain leverage in contract talks," ILWU President Robert McEllrath said n a statement. "The union is standing by ready to negotiate, as we have been for the past several days."

The union said the PMA had canceled a negotiatng session scheduled for Wednesday afternoon and that the employers "have not made themselves available to negotiate since Friday of last week."

The PMA said the ILWU had made unrealistic demands while intentionally slowing operations.

“Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion,” Gates said. “The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet, and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock.’

Employers say the union has demanded the right at the end of any contract period to fire any neutral arbitrator who rules against them. The PMA said this would give the ILWU veto power over arbitrators and open the way to unlimited slowdowns and work stoppages. During the 2008-2014 contract period, four area arbitrators found the ILWU guilty of more than 200 slowdowns or work stoppages, the PMA said.

“The ILWU’s current slowdowns, now in their fourth month, show the very reason that we need a healthy arbitration system in place,” Gates said. “It is essential to be able to prevent the crippling slowdowns that are impacting workers and businesses across the nation.”

Last week, after nine months of contract talks, PMA last week announced what it said was an “all-in” contract offer that employers said would raise ILWU wages by 14 percent over five years, atop current average full-time wages of $147,000 per year; maintain fully employer-paid health care, and increase the ILWU pension to as much as $88,800 per year. The PMA said a pay guarantee program would ensure that longshore workers are paid for 40 hours per week, even if no work is available, and that the ILWU would have jurisdiction over the maintenance and repair of intermodal chassis.

The ILWU accused the PMA of mischaracterizing the ILWU's bargaining position. The union said longshore workers' straight-time pay ranges from $26 to $41 an hour, with "excellent benefits," but that the work is hazardous, that most dockworkers are unable to work a full 2,000 hours in a normal work year, and that "the typical pay for an experienced longshore worker is $83,000."

Supply Chain Re...
Feb 15 2015 17:06

As PMA's lockout at 29 West Coast ports causes commerce to grind to a halt this weekend, dozens of ships are anchored out beyond the San Pedro Bay breakwater of the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex. Here are some photos of those container ships idle at sea:

To add the chaos in trans-Pacific intermodal trade, a new port licensing system took effect at Port Metro Vancouver, Canada on February 1st, reducing the drayage truck driver pool by about 600. But the threats of strike by the Unifor union, representing about 400 drivers, and the United Truckers Association, representing 1,400 independent/owner-operator drivers, remains in effect. Together, union and non-union drivers went on strike for 3 weeks last March.

But Canada's ability to take diverted intermodal traffic due to the ILWU lockout in the U.S. will be even more uncertain on the railroads. From today's Journal of Commerce:

JoC wrote:
CP engineers on strike after talks fail

Greg Knowler, Senior Asia Editor | Feb 15, 2015
Intermodal shippers will face reduced rail services as CP engineers go on strike.

A Teamsters union representing more than 3,000 Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive engineers and conductors walked off the job after failing to reach an agreement by the midnight deadline on Feb. 14.

Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) members went on strike as urgent last-minute talks failed to meet their contract demands. The work stoppage is expected to result in reduced freight services.

However, even as the Teamsters walked out, a threatened strike by CP’s 1,800-member Unifor was averted when the union reached an agreement with management in Montreal. Unifor members conduct safety inspections on rail cars and locomotives and perform maintenance and repairs.

The Unifor agreement was reached in Montreal minutes before the midnight deadline. "This was a very difficult set of negotiations, but I'm pleased that we were able to break new ground in several different areas," Unifor national president Jerry Dias said in statement.

Details of the tentative agreement are being withheld pending ratification by the Unifor membership.

"After months of negotiating, we have agreed on a deal that is fair to all stakeholders," E. Hunter Harrison, CP's chief executive officer said in a statement. "We look forward to a successful ratification vote and to working together with our Unifor colleagues in driving CP forward."

CP’s talks with the Teamsters broke down over working conditions, namely CP’s refusal to honor collective agreements requiring train crews to rest after 10 straight hours of work, union president Doug Finnson said in a statement issued before the strike. He also accused the railroad of not giving the majority of union members “accurate information on when they are required to work.”

CP said would implement an “extensive contingency plan” by deploying qualified management employees to maintain a reduced freight service on its Canadian network. The railroad pledged to work with its customers to advise on how the work stoppage will affect them.

As the likelihood of a Teamsters’ strike mounted in the run up to the Feb. 14 midnight deadline, the Canadian government said it would do whatever it could to prevent the economy being damaged by a work stoppage.

During the 2012 labor unrest, legislation was passed by Ottawa forcing an end to a nine-day strike by 4,800 striking union members and CP employees. Back then it was estimated that a strike would cost the Canadian economy $540 million a week.

Meanwhile, the largest railroad in the country, Canadian National (CN), has reached a tentative labor agreement with the TCRC that represents 1,800 of the company's locomotive engineers in Canada.

The deal will be put to a ratification vote by mid-April, when results will be made public, CN said in a statement.

Feb 15 2015 18:11

Are there effective solidarity measures in support of the ILWU and the West Coast port workers to be taken both by people living in the Bay Area and by those of us living halfway around the world? Measures that amount to material "aiding and abetting" as well as ways of publicising the struggle of the workers? Succinct flyers, leaflets, and pamphlets in pdf form that summarise the issues and "what is to be done" would be most helpful.