LOS ANGELES – The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has filed unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against their employers, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), and the Stevedoring Services of America (SSA), charging them with manufacturing a national crisis in order to sabotage contract talks.

This action comes in response to a lockout notice served to the ILWU by the PMA on Sept. 19, in which the shipping association falsely accused ILWU Local 13 of slowing down work at the Los Angeles/Long Beach port. The PMA then announced publicly that it would shut down the nation’s two largest ports on Sept. 20 due to slowdown.

The lockout was withdrawn only hours later, with the PMA stating the union ended its slow down. But the union says that not only was there never a slowdown, but the situation in Los Angeles was created by the PMA itself when the employers’ “sky is falling” predictions were followed by an overload of cargo, resulting in a labor shortage of trained personnel.

“The PMA is whipping up hysteria over a possible longshore strike and encouraging shippers and retailers to move all their goods as soon as possible. This caused such a crush of cargo that the port’s infrastructure can’t handle it and there are not enough [trained] workers to fill all the jobs,” Steve Stallone, ILWU Communications Director, told the World.

“The ILWU membership will not be intimidated or coerced by the PMA employers’ unjustified and unlawful, hostile actions. Nor will the union be deterred from our efforts to obtain a fair and equitable contract settlement for all port workers,” stated ILWU President James Spinosa, in response to the PMA’s “reckless and provocative” action.

Adding to the SSA’s irresponsibility is its failure to attend a labor-management meeting Sept. 19. Other PMA employers and the ILWU were present to discuss SSA’s complaints of labor shortages, but the SSA no-show insured no resolution could be achieved.

The union also filed NLRB charges against the SSA for threatening to fire workers unless the union agrees to economic concessions which benefit the employer.

In the meantime, ports up and down the coast have been experiencing personnel shortages, especially in the more skilled categories. The huge volume of cargo has also required many terminals to move to “grounded operations,” stacking containers four high, instead of the previous “wheeled operation,” where containers are kept on chassis for easier movement out to waiting trucks.

The union also charges the PMA with retaliating against the union for its insistence that established safety rules be complied with at SSA in Long Beach. An arbitration decision mandated that only industry-trained and fully registered workers operate the massive “tophandler” machinery, which has been the cause of recent deaths and injuries. But SSA, which has a reserve of qualified crane operators, chooses not to use them to fill open jobs.

Instead, employers used the shortage at a single SSA facility in Long Beach to argue for the total closure of all waterfront terminals at the ports of Long Beach/Los Angeles, which together make up the third busiest port facility in the world. This was done while ILWU workers are “handling cargo flow 15 percent greater than average and when the negotiating parties are making significant progress on contract provisions for new technologies and the free flow of data in the ports.”

The union also reports that in Southern California two of the largest shipping companies – Maersk and Hanjin – are moving from their old terminals to new ones, causing further disruptions. Some terminals have had to close their gates early because of truck congestion inside.

This situation continues to pose severe safety problems for workers. However, despite all these problems, and contrary to PMA statements, more cargo is being moved now than any time in the history of the West Coast docks.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com