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Mediation Devolves into Competing Accusations in West Coast Port Dispute

Saturday, January, 24, 2015

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) each blamed each other for perceived slowdowns and chaos at the country’s busiest and largest port despite having been in mediation proceedings with a federal mediator for more than a week.  The PMA characterized the problems at the port as a tactic by the ILWU to pressure them during negotiations by slowing down normal work and claiming that skilled workers were not available for assignments, while the union argued that the problems are systemic to the port, citing space issues causing congestion, and that the PMA had caused further problems by changing procedures without consulting the union, suggesting they want chaos at the port to pressure the workers when they took the blame. 


Both sides had agreed at the beginning of mediation not to discuss the negotiations in public, and both broke that pledge with the fiery exchange of press releases trading accusations. 


Mediation has been taking place between the two sides since May of 2014.  The ILWU workers have been without a contract since July.  Perceived work slowdowns (where workers purposefully work less efficiently to skirt laws preventing them from going on strike) began in December.  Federal mediation was requested shortly afterwards. 


Federal mediation has been very successful in past contract disputes between port workers and the port administrators, so optimism was high for the proceedings between the ILWU and the PMA.  However, this has not worked out as hoped.  No progress at all has been announced, and the volley of angry press releases indicates that negotiations are going backwards.