Mini lockouts: Has Walmart come to the waterfront?

The backup of unloaded ships is growing.

The backup of unloaded ships is growing.

On Feb. 14, President Barack Obama dispatched Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to meet with the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union and the Pacific Maritime Association “to urge them to resolve their dispute quickly at the bargaining table.” (

The longshore workers’ labor contract expired July 1 and contract provisions were not extended.

This government intervention is being demanded by corporate interests, not labor. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, which includes Walmart and other capitalist interests, are clamoring for a settlement because of the disruption in the critical international supply chain.

The backup of unloaded ships is growing. Dozens are anchored offshore waiting for ILWU members to unload them, blocked from working by the PMA’s mini lockouts.

On Feb. 12, 14, 15 and 16, the PMA inflicted a four-day “mini lockout” on West Coast dockers and their union, leaving Feb. 13 as the one day out of five that the PMA would allow them to work. It was the second week in a row the PMA refused to call ILWU members to work container cargo on weekends, holidays or any night shifts. According to ILWU rank and filers, as early as last fall the PMA even began sending work gangs home after four hours.

The PMA’s mini lockout campaign is now longer than its 2002 ten-day lockout that led to the Bush administration imposing an anti-labor Taft-Hartley cooling off period.

Norm Parks, a longshore retiree who participated in the negotiations for seven coastwide contracts, local contracts and served over 25 years on the International Executive Board, among other elected posts, commented to WW: “I have a theory that McKenna and the steering committee have utilized the mini lockouts to create uncertainty and doubt among the rank and file and as a consequence caused chaos among shippers and retailers. The employer has taken the role the union used to have. PMA is adopting strategies, long associated with ILWU’s militant job actions, such as withholding labor.”

“The ports work seven days a week, 24 hours a day depending on the number of ships in port,” pointed out current ILWU Local 10 rank and filer, past secretary/treasurer and executive board member, Clarence Thomas. He went on to tell WW: “Traditionally, jobs are dispatched from the ILWU hiring hall whenever ships are in port for loading and unloading. Now, the PMA is treating the longshore workers as if they are nonunion employees of Walmart by telling us when we can work, how many hours and what days on short notice even though there is work to be done.”

The only publicized sticking point in the negotiations involves a union demand to get rid of area arbitrators who have been shown to be biased in favor of the PMA. For example, Terry Lane, the area arbitrator for the Port of San Francisco, is a former vice president of the PMA. (Journal of Commerce, July 23, 1998) The PMA represents its 72 member companies, including cargo carriers, terminal operators and stevedores, in contract negotiations with the ILWU. (

Impartial area arbitrators are vital for any new agreement. The PMA’s reason for foot dragging negotiations on this issue is made clear in a Feb. 5 article: “The ILWU on July 1, 2014, refused to extend its previous contract. ‘With no contract in place, there is no arbitration system in place,’ [PMA Pres.] McKenna said. ‘Without an arbitrator, the union can essentially do whatever they want, and that includes staging devastating slowdowns up and down the coast,’ he said.” (