FEBRUARY 11, 2015, 6:00 PM EST
Cutbacks occurring amid stalled labor talks between the companies and the union.
(Reuters) – Shipping lines plan a partial four-day shutdown of U.S. West Coast ports, starting on Thursday, amid stalled labor talks between the companies and the union representing 20,000 dockworkers, the companies said on Wednesday.
Loading and unloading of cargo vessels at the 29 ports will be suspended anew, as they were last weekend, on Thursday and again on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the companies’ bargaining agent, the Pacific Maritime Association, said in a statement.
The PMA said, however, that work would continue at management’s discretion in the terminal yards, rail hubs and terminal gates during those days for clearing cargo containers stacked up at the harbors.
The affected ports handle nearly half of all U.S. maritime trade and more than 70 percent of Asian imports.
In addition to suspending vessel operations on Saturday and Sunday, as they did the previous week, the shipping companies plan to extend the partial shutdown to this Thursday and next Monday, which coincide with theLincolnand Washington presidents day birthday holidays and command premium pay, the PMA said.
The companies, citing chronic slowdowns in freight traffic they blamed on the union, said it made no sense to pay union workers premium holiday and weekend rates “for severely diminished productivity while the backlog of cargo at West Coast ports grows.”
The companies have accused the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of instigating work slowdowns since October to gain leverage in labor talks that have dragged on for nine months.
The union has denied this and has faulted the carriers themselves for worsening cargo congestion, pointing to changes in shipping and management practices cited by port authorities as contributing factors.