Cargo sits in the Port of Long Beach Thursday.

Dockworkers shut down 29 West Coast ports Thursday, including the nation's biggest at Los Angeles and Long Beach, to protest the war in Iraq.

Dockworkers shut down 29 West Coast ports Thursday, including the nation’s biggest at Los Angeles and Long Beach, to protest the war in Iraq.

An estimated 6,000 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union took part in the May Day walkout at ports from San Diego to Seattle, which occurred during the slow season and was anticipated by shippers and terminal operators. The union’s contract with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents port operators and shipping companies, expires July 1.

Shipping terminal operations on the West Coast were expected to return to normal today.

Sara Mayes, president of the Fashion Accessories Shippers Association, said there are likely to be some delayed product deliveries, but they would be minimal.

“It’ll certainly have an effect and certainly cause some backups, but it won’t be too devastating,” she said.

Mark Jaeger, senior vice president and general counsel for Jockey International, was among the executives who cited the annual nature of the one-day strikes, although in previous years they have not been touted as a protest of the war. “Our shipper plans for that, so we’re not inconvenienced,” he said.

The maritime association said about 10,000 containers on 30 ships were not processed during the day shift.

“The goal here was to send a message to the tone-deaf politicians in Washington, it was not to affect the industries we work with every day,” said Craig Merrilees, a union spokesman, who added that contract talks are “on track.”

Before the walkout, tension between the shippers and the union appeared to have ebbed, with both organizations agreeing to start early negotiations for a new contract covering some 25,000 union members at ports in California, Washington and Oregon.

Contract disputes led to a lockout in 2002 during which the West Coasts ports were closed for 10 days and cost the U.S. economy an estimated $20 billion.

On an average day at the Port of Oakland, the fifth largest U.S. port by import container volume, three to five ships line up to dock, but only one showed up on Thursday.

At the Port of Portland there were no containerships or barges scheduled.

This story first appeared in the May 2, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

A spokesman for ocean carrier APL said the company had planned for the walkout and did not have vessels in several ports.

The maritime association tried to head off the work stoppage by bringing in an arbitrator, who ruled it would be a violation of the union’s contract.

“Shutting down the ports in defiance of the contract and the arbitrator’s order in no way benefits the already fragile U.S. economy,” maritime association spokesman Steve Getzug said. “We have a lot of serious issues to resolve at the bargaining table, and the nation cannot afford uncertainty about the reliability of the West Coast ports.”

— With contributions from Joanna Ramey, Ross Tucker and Liza Casabona

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