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 Home > News & Policies > October 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 8, 2002

Report to the President : Submitted by the President's Board of Inquiry on the Work Stoppage in the West Coast Ports
Created by Executive Order Dated October 7,2002
William E. Brock, Chairman
Patrick Hardin
Dennis R. Nolan
San Francisco, California October 8, 2002

Background of Dispute

On October 7, 2002, the President of the United States created this Board of Inquiry by Executive Order. The President directed this Board of Inquiry to report to him by October 8 on the current labor dispute causing the shutdown of the West Coast ports.

The labor dispute involves disagreements between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). The PMA is the bargaining representative for virtually all domestic and international shipping companies and stevedores operating on the West Coast ports. The ILWU represents approximately 10,500 longshore workers and marine clerks actively working at these ports.

The contract between the parties expired on July 1, 2002. Before the expiration of the contract, in May 2002, the parties began to negotiate over a new contract. Negotiations proved unsuccessful and, after the contract expired, the parties began to operate under short-term extensions of the contract. On September 1, 2002, the parties practice of operating under short-term extensions of the contract ceased.

On September 26, the ILWU instructed its members to engage in what the ILWU terms a safety program, in part to pressure the PMA in negotiations. The safety program substantially reduced the workers output. The PMA asserts that productivity fell by sixty percent because of this conduct. On September 27, the PMA responded with economic pressure by locking out the bargaining unit. That shut down the West Coast ports.

The parties began meeting with representatives of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) in early October. Despite some apparent but limited progress, the parties have been unsuccessful in resolving their differences. On October 7, the President of the United States created this Board of Inquiry. The Board conducted a fact-finding hearing the same day.

Under the national emergency provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, the Boards function is to inquire into the issues involved in the dispute, to ascertain the facts with respect to the causes and circumstances of the dispute, and to make a written report to the President. 29 U.S.C. sections 176-177. The Act does not allow the report of the Board to contain recommendations. Id. 176.

Facts Concerning the Dispute

On October 7, the Board conducted a hearing, closed to the public, in San Francisco. Representatives of the PMA and the ILWU made oral presentations and submitted written statements. The Board has carefully considered the partys presentations and submissions.

Two main issues create the current impasse. As described by the parties, the fulcrum of the dispute concerns the introduction of new technology in the ports and the implications of that introduction for job security and work preservation. The parties also disagree about the appropriate arbitration process in the next collective bargaining agreement.

The Technology Issue

Neither party disputes that the employers must implement new technology. The West Coast ports lag behind in many cases far behind the efficiency of other ports in the United States and around the world. Introducing needed technology will eliminate jobs held by marine clerks of the ILWU. The PMA has offered to guarantee marine clerk work and pay to the individuals currently holding those jobs until they retire. Beyond this point, the parties do not agree on how to handle the jobs to be created, eliminated, and changed by the implementation of new technology.

The ILWU views the issue as one of work and job preservation. For years, the ILWU has claimed, and the PMA has denied, that employers of the PMA have outsourced certain "planning jobs to workers outside of the ILWU. Planning work is the work of charting the specific placement of cargo on vessels, dockside yards, and rail cars. To recoup what it claims to be lost jobs and to counter the possible loss of jobs that will come with new technology, the ILWU demands that all work that is functionally equivalent to work now or previously performed by marine clerks continue to be performed by ILWU members, without regard to where that work is performed.

In the PMAs view, this ILWU demand would obstruct the free flow of information. The PMA views this demand as a specific impediment to modernization. According to the PMA, neither the ILWU nor any other entity has an exclusive right to process information regarding the movement of cargo. The PMA counters the ILWU demand with an offer to have certain new jobs, which the PMA asserts will come with the new technology, in the bargaining unit. The ILWU argues that the PMA has not provided any details whatsoever regarding the new jobs promised.

The Arbitration Issue

The essence of the arbitration dispute centers on the qualifications of prospective arbitrators. Under the expired agreement, Area Arbitrators quickly resolved disputes on the docks. Area Arbitrators came from the ranks of union and industry officials. The agreement also had an appeals process, concluding with the Coast Arbitrator, a position that for many years has been held by a professional neutral enjoying the respect of both the PMA and the ILWU.

The PMA insists that under a new agreement, the successor Coast Arbitrator should continue to be a professional neutral. The ILWU insists that the Coast Arbitrator should, like the Area Arbitrators, be drawn from within the industry.

Other disputes exist between the parties, such as terms involving wage increases, pension increases, and port security issues. Both parties, however, anticipate that they could reach agreement on these matters once the core issues involving technology and arbitration are resolved.

Boards Comments

We believe that the seeds of distrust have been widely sown, poisoning the atmosphere of mutual trust and respect which could enable a resolution of seemingly intractable issues. For example, the parties have been unable to agree even on such matters as the, length of proposed temporary contract extensions although both know that their standoff costs the Nation billions of dollars. We have no confidence that the parties will resolve the West Coast ports dispute within a reasonable time.

William E. Brock, Chairman

Patrick Hardin

Dennis Nolan