AG exporters demand change from PMA and ILWU
Agricultural exporters and truckers attending the Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC) annual meeting in San Francisco expressed anger and frustration about losses and delays incurred during the recent cargo handling slow down at West Coast ports.
They are demanding assurances that there will be no slow down when the current contract expires in 2019 between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).
In a statement, AgTC said, “The U.S. cannot afford another collapse of our gateway container ports. We cannot stand by and wait for U.S. West Coast ports, which have now shut down twice over the past 13 years, to do it again when the recently approved ILWU-PMA contract expires in just four years, in 2019.”
Edward DeNike, president at Stevedoring Service of America Containers, candidly made no excuses about that PMA-ILWU contract. He noted negotiations were dominated by a “bunch of little issues” and were approached with “no sense of urgency.” He admitted that the new contract has no provision to improve productivity.
Congress urged to act against ILWU
Many attendees gave Nina Solari, vice president at Avanti Nut Company, a standing ovation when she urged participants to support efforts in Congress to include longshore workers as part of the Railway Labor Act, so as to restrict work stoppages and strikes.
Solari criticized the ILWU for ignoring the plight of farmers and growers who suffered massive losses of export sales when shipments were delayed or stranded at West Coast ports during the 2014-2015 slow down.
Solari also criticized the PMA (Pacific Maritime Association) for failing to stand up for agricultural customers and for “passing on” ILWU wage and benefit demands.
Peter Friedmann, executive director of AgTC, complained that agricultural exporters were treated as “backhaul” by ocean carriers, terminals and ports in favor of higher priced import customers such as Wal-Mart.
Friedmann did note that the California ports have been working hard to reduce congestion and delays. AgTC applauded efforts by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to include AgTC members in “stakeholder outreach initiatives” related to port service improvements.
Unfair detention charges
Joe Antonini, president of Antonini Trucking based in Stockton, California, told AJOT that problems related to detention and per diem charges resulting from the slow down and the aftermath are continuing, and the charges are sizeable.
AgTC is asking the Federal Maritime Commission to take action on unfair detention and demurrage charges assessed against truckers and agricultural shippers.
In a statement AgTC said some ocean carriers took into account congestion and the labor slow down and are accepting “customer requests to rescind the per diem invoices.” Unfortunately, “most carriers continue to issue invoices…totaling hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions of dollars” are being assessed against truckers and shippers as a result of the logistical meltdown.
A particular target of criticism by AgTC participants was the Port of Oakland where shippers and truckers say delays continue. Chris Lytle, Port of Oakland executive director, said the Port was making every effort to end delays and bring port operations back to normal. He said a new equipment center in the San Joaquin Valley would help truckers and shippers pick up chassis and containers without making the longer drive to Oakland.
Most California growers are located in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Peter Schneider, vice president of T.G.S. Transportation based in Fresno, California, told AJOT “we need all the stakeholders to work together to solve the problems at Oakland. We have no choice. We must work together.”
Los Angeles Port Director Gene Seroka and Long Beach Port Director Jon Slangerup noted that improved chassis supply has already helped to ease congestion at the two Southern California ports.
Schneider agreed that turn-around times at the two Southern California ports “had improved,” but noted that some terminals are working better than others. Oakland, on the other hand, continues to lag behind.
Seroka and Slangerup noted that new automated terminals in Los Angeles (Trapac) and Long Beach (Long Beach Container Terminal) would improve cargo handling as larger ships arrive at the ports. Lytle lamented that the Port of Oakland lacks the funds to invest in a new terminal.
Also, the two Southern California ports are working to reduce truck congestion on crowded roads, including the 710 freeway, by establishing a short distance rail line linking the two ports to distribution centers in nearby Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Slangerup said that the railroads “need to be compensated for taking thousands of trucks off the roads” and freeways. He said details for the new rail service are being worked out.
Friedmann said that he was so impressed by the willingness of the ILWU to pay for attendance at last year’s AgTC meeting so as to “sit and listen.” When the ILWU paid to attend this year’s meeting, Friedmann decided to ask the union to participate in a panel discussion. He noted that agricultural exporters couldn’t afford to avoid West Coast ports. If other importers and exporters abandoned West Coast ports and shifted their business to Gulf and East Coast ports, “we and the ILWU may be the only ones left.”
Ray Familathe, an ILWU vice president, spoke directly to Nina Solari and her call for Congressional action regulating the ILWU saying “we hear you.” He said the ILWU wants to make West Coast ports more competitive, but noted that there must be collaboration between the ILWU, terminal managers and ocean carriers. Significantly, Familathe noted, the PMA did not attend the AgTC event.
Familathe noted that the PMA has authorized the hiring of additional longshore workers to ease congestion and that the ILWU is ready and willing to have the ports operate on a 24 hour a day basis, but the terminals must approve this.
Familathe said the ILWU was willing to consider beginning negotiations for the 2019 contract much earlier than last time to avoid a repeat of 2014-2015 problems.
Robert Olvera, president of ILWU Local 13 covering the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, said there were many things the ILWU could do to improve productivity at the ports, but longshore workers are constrained by terminal management.