LOS ANGELES – This week the International Longshore and Warehouse Union charged the Justice Department with bias in favor of employers, and firmly rejected the Pacific Maritime Association’s claims that the union is slowing down at West Coast ports.

“We are working around the clock to ease the backlog in our ports. Instead of working in good faith to improve this situation, the PMA is trying to shift the blame,” said ILWU President James Spinosa in an Oct. 29 press statement.

“The PMA is misleading the Justice Department by distorting the facts,” Steve Stallone, ILWU communications director, told the World. The crux of the problem, according to Stallone, is orchestrated mismanagement by the PMA, to which the Justice Department is willing to turn a blind eye.

“Management has continued to refuse to address personnel, congestion and safety issues that are affecting productivity on the docks,” continued Stallone.

In a letter sent to the Justice Department Oct. 29, the ILWU pointedly criticized the tone of the Justice Department letter sent to them, stating that the government agency clearly showed partiality towards the PMA. The union says the department also takes PMA’s side in each of the disputes, “in effect handing the employer victories it has been unable to achieve through grievance procedures.”

While the Justice Department continued to demand that the union respond to PMA’s allegations that the union has failed to comply with the Taft-Hartley court order, the department does not equally demand information from the PMA regarding the union’s charges that the PMA has violated the injunction.

“This omission on your part manifests a serious bias that we cannot ignore,” states the union. Furthermore, the ILWU letter accuses the Justice Department of premature presumptions without even reviewing the evidence.

The union states that the officers and business agents of the various locals have made repeated efforts to convene meetings with the PMA and various port authorities to address the severe problems created by the lockout, but the PMA has “steadfastly refused to cooperate with these initiatives.”

Spinosa and ILWU counsel have also submitted written requests, which continue to go unanswered, that PMA CEO Joseph Miniace bring any claims of slowdowns to the Joint Labor Relations Committees (JLRC) for resolution and asking the PMA to provide evidence substantiating its slowdown claims which has also been ignored to date according to the union.

Instead, the union states, the PMA prefers “to adopt a confrontational posture that appears to be aimed only at framing the union to take the blame for the continuing effects of the lockout.”

The ILWU says that the PMA has not provided any real evidence to prove the employers’ accusation that the union is engaging in a “concerted systematic refusal to obey the court’s requirement.” The only so-called evidence, according to the union, are “a series of largely unsubstantiated routine workplace problems” described by PMA as “small skirmishes.” Even if proven correct, the instances are routine contract disputes that PMA could easily address at a JLRC meeting or through the grievance and arbitration procedure, the union says, but they are hardly “deliberate or concerted action.”

“The main issue is … whether the union and its members have complied with the preliminary injunction,” says the union. An examination of that has to include the fact that the lockout created unique circumstances that affect production and, the union says, the number of containers moved on or off of vessels is not an objective way to measure the ILWU’s compliance.

Of critical concern to the ILWU are the new hazardous conditions that their members face after the lockout. Five members were killed on the job in California alone in the last six months. California OSHA has identified numerous safety problems, including deficient enforcement of traffic controls.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com

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