Since June 30th, 2014, over 13,000 International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) members employed by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) have been at work without a signed labor contract.
Using a dispute tactic called “work to rule”, the union workers follow the rule book (as they should) but to the extreme. This means that the port and dock workers work individually and methodically rather than as an efficient team. Used along with a “work safe” code, the tactic has been effective at slowing productivity to a crawl.
Cargo that would typically take just 2 days to be processed to leave port has been taking 7 days or more. This slow-down has worried the National Retail Federation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers.
With the western ports being the prime entry and exit for goods imported and exported between the United States and Asia, this affects businesses and retailers across the Nation. The western ports from Los Angeles, California to Tacoma, Washington have been brought to a virtual standstill by the Longshoremen. Longshoremen being the term to describe the workers on the port that help load and off-load cargo. The Longshoremen are upset over pay and benefits; the common complaint of many Americans. While overall unemployment hovers around 6% and 1 out of every 10 Americans still cannot obtain a job, the average Longshoreman can earn $147,000 a year and enjoy little-to-no co-pays for health insurance. In 2013 alone, the payroll for 13,600 ILWU workers at the west coast ports reached an incredible $1.4 billion.
So many of our citizens are looking for work and they simply want to earn a fair paycheck. It is hard for me to comprehend when people are not appreciative for what they are lucky have – like the many well-paid Longshoremen. My very first job was as a janitor for the middle school I attended, and then I worked three jobs while I attended law school. Even as I was first becoming an attorney, I worked nights waiting tables to make ends meet. Every single day I was just thankful to have a job. I did not take for granted what I had, because I knew others had not been as blessed as I was.
I own my law firm with the bills to match. If I am unable to pay those bills, it not only affects me but also my employees, my family, and my clients. I would go months without a paycheck so that my employees could be paid. If I were to refuse to work, or chose to work as slowly as possible, my clients and employees would surely be very upset. Yet the Ports in Washington have folks making as much as $150,000 per year who are doing just that. All while the average wage in the United States is barely over $50,000.
The Longshoremen appear to be blessed with steady paychecks, full benefits, and guaranteed schedules. Unfortunately, most of us do not have that blessing. The union members who have slowed their work down in an attempt to obtain even more money – do they realize the distress they can (or are) causing their fellow Americans? There are limited resources and to have one entity use those resources to support another person is a gift. Why accept the gift if you are not happy to have it?
Our economy does depend on the cargo imported and exported through our Nation’s ports, and we appreciate and value every worker who helps to make it all happen. But when is enough really enough? When it comes to fair and realistic pay for the work performed, I can only hope that sensible thinking prevails.