LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Increased congestion is expected this Presidents Day weekend at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, harbor officials said Friday.
Under an order by the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents port employers, vessel loading and unloading activities at the ports were suspended Thursday – which was Lincoln’s birthday – and will be suspended again on Saturday, Sunday and Monday – which is Presidents Day – so companies will not be forced to pay holiday and weekend salaries to union workers, whom they have accused of slowing port operations during the contract dispute.
As of early Friday morning, as many as 27 ships waited at anchor outside the two ports, with just as many at berth, according to Port of Los Angeles spokesman Philip Sanfield.
The shipping yards – “chock full” of cargo – are 95 percent full, well beyond the “efficient” ideal of 80 percent, he said.
The ports are at a “breaking point,” and there are fears that this latest labor dispute could drive companies like Walmart, Target and others to shy away from the West Coast ports, opting instead for Canadian, Gulf Coast and even East Coast ports, he said.
Although vessel operations will be halted, yard, gate and rail operations will continue at the ports, according to the association.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has repeatedly denied taking part in a coordinated effort to slow port operations. Union officials have said employees are not given enough training opportunities so there are not enough qualified employees who can come to work.
Congestion at the ports in recent months has also been attributed by the union to industry-wide changes that include larger ships dropping off and picking up more cargo at the ports.
According to the PMA, longshore workers and clerks would be paid between $54 and $75 an hour on the holiday and weekend days, while foremen would receive $77 to $92 an hour.
“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,” according to a statement from the association.
Vessel operations also were halted last weekend. The action by the PMA affects not only the Los Angeles/Long Beach complex, but all West Coast ports.
The ILWU blasted last weekend’s halt of vessel activity as “crazy and irresponsible.”
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