International Shipping, Air, Ocean, Freight Forwarders in California, Global Logistics


International shipping, global logistics, Ocean, Maritime

ILWU Voting on PNW Grain Handlers’ Proposal

International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers in the Pacific Northwest are voting Friday and Saturday on a proposed grain handlers contract that could determine whether the dockworkers remain on the job or are locked out by international grain companies.

The Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association on Nov. 16 gave the union its final contract offer, a proposed agreement that union officials are urging the membership to reject.  

The union has stated since its previous contract expired on Sept. 30 that it does not want to strike against the six grain terminals represented by the association. However, the two sides appear to be far apart, and efforts earlier this month by federal mediators to help the parties reach an agreement failed.

Newspapers in the Pacific Northwest have been speculating that the terminal operatos are preparing for a lockout. The employers hired the Delaware firm J.R. Gettier and Associates, a company whose services include providing security during labor disputes and supplying replacement workers. The association declined comment.

The grain terminals reportedly want a contract similar to what the ILWU signed earlier this year with the newly opened EGT export terminal in Longview, Wash. That contract gives employers greater flexibility and more favorable work rules than the contract with the six other terminals that expired on Sept. 30.

The ILWU charges that the employers’ proposed contract would compromise worker safety. The union said the grain companies have operated profitably for decades under contracts similar to the one that expired on Sept. 30. Those contracts were decidedly less favorable to employers than the EGT contract.

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In a separate incident that nevertheless offers some perspective on why the grain handlers appear to have the upper hand in this dispute, the Office Clerical Unit of ILWU Local 63 in Southern California shut down 10 of the 14 container terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach for eight days beginning Nov. 27.

Despite the ILWU’s leverage in the container industry, and the poor financial performance of global liner companies the past two years, the Southern California employers remained united throughout the strike. The tentative contract that was reached on Dec. 4 is less than either side wanted, but it was what both sides needed.

The ILWU has much less leverage in the bulk grain industry. ILWU job actions against container lines have the potential of spreading to other ports because the approximately 20 liner companies call at all of the major gateways on the West Coast. The ILWU has a single coastwide contract with the container lines and terminal operators that are represented by the Pacific Maritime Association. The union has the ability to shut down container lines at all of the West Coast ports, and in fact has used that leverage in the past. 

A handful of international grain companies dominate the global grain trade, and they have much deeper pockets than the container lines. Also, the terminal operators contract with bulk shipping companies that do not call on a fixed schedule covering all of the West Coast ports, so those bulk operators are not vulnerable up and down the coast.

The grain contract in the Pacific Northwest is separate from the coastwide contract covering container lines. If the union chose to post pickets and disrupt container handling at the ports, the PMA would seek arbitration and argue that the pickets represented an illegal secondary boycott.

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LA, Long Beach Act to Ease Strike Impact

LONG BEACH — The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are making adjustments in their operations in an effort to reduce the economic impact that the eight-day office clerical workers strike will have on port customers.

In fact, all members of the port community, from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to the marine terminal operators, seem to be pulling together to minimize disruptions that would be expected to follow an eight-day shutdown of a port complex that handles more than 14 million 20-foot container units a year.

The port authorities have notified their customers that containers idled at their facilities during the strike will not be subject to the normal storage charges, known as demurrage, that kick in after free time expires.

At the Port of Los Angeles, for example, an imported container is granted four days free time before demurrage is charged. An export container has six days free time. Long Beach has a similar tariff.

Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, notified terminal operators that the port has extended free time on all merchandise through Friday. Containers that were on the docks Nov. 27, at the beginning of the strike by the Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63, will not be charged demurrage. Seven container terminals in Los Angeles were shut down during the strike.

Long Beach notified its customers that the port is waiving its portion of cargo fees incurred or impacted by the forced terminal closures. Three terminals in Long Beach were idled by the strike. Long Beach advised cargo interests to contact their carriers, terminal operators or other service providers for more details on cargo fees.

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Customs assigned more staff to the harbor when the terminals opened on Wednesday. Dan Meylor, customs administration manager at Carmichael International, said additional Customs personnel were manning the container examination stations and the scanning devices that Customs uses to search containers for weapons of mass destruction and contraband. Customs was clearing entry documentation efficiently, Meylor said.

Terminal operators throughout the harbor added early and late flex gates and will have night and weekend gates to dissipate the backlog.

Harbor truckers reported Thursday that the harbor was busy, but except for a few terminals, congestion was not a major problem. However, truckers are concerned that congestion could come back with a vengeance on Monday.

The new weekly rotation of vessels in the trans-Pacific will arrive over the weekend. Also, vessels that were diverted last week to Oakland to drop off Northern California cargo will be back in port. When those containers are mixed in with cargo being unloaded now from vessels that were sitting at anchor in the harbor, it appears the coming week will be especially busy at the ports.

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at and follow him at




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