ILWU Claiming “Tentative Agreement” on “Certain Key Issues” Doesn’t Mean Much
The International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) claimed today to have reached a “tentative agreement” with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) on “certain key issues.” Immediately, it made headlines, tweets, and posts all over the international shipping news portions of the internet. However, shippers shouldn’t get too excited. The statement means very little, if anything at all.
When you look at the details of the statement, or lack thereof, the union’s need for putting forward positive news, and the lack of a coinciding statement from the PMA, this big news item feels more like a big flop. It even has that fake news spin smell to it.
The announcement also feels stale as ILWU Local 13 reportedly continues to slow operations at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Here are 6 reasons shippers shouldn’t be taken in by the statement:
1. This Is NOT a Tentative Contract Agreement Announcement
Some of the headlines and tweets on the PMA’s announcement almost make it sound like the ILWU and PMA have reached a tentative contract agreement. This is clearly not the case.
In fact, the ILWU said in the short statement, “Talks are continuing on an ongoing basis until an agreement is reached.”
By all indications, the parties still appear to be far from reaching a new tentative master contract.
2. What Key Issues…? Crickets
The ILWU didn’t bother to specify in its statement what “key issues” this “tentative agreement” includes.
All the articles from major international shipping news sources, those whom the ILWU would be most likely to respond to when asked for comment, said the ILWU did not respond to inquiries about the statement.
With the lack of detail, the union could simply be referring to the tentative agreement made between the ILWU and PMA all the way back in July on healthcare benefits. That was the last time any kind of actual progress in contract negotiations was announced.
And it was announced very differently…
3. PMA Did Not Make Announcement with ILWU
The ILWU and PMA announced the tentative agreement on healthcare benefits in a joint statement. Where’s the PMA in the ILWU’s statement about agreement today? Suspiciously absent.
If there was real news about progress in the talks between the PMA and ILWU, it would likely come from both parties. As with the ILWU, major international shipping news outlets have gotten no comment from the PMA on the giant union’s statement.
Are you smelling that stale, fake scent yet?
4. Labor Action Makes Timing Suspicious
This statement comes right off the heels of ILWU labor action closing the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for a couple days and more labor action slowing those ports afterward.
ILWU Local 13 suddenly refusing to work the Thursday night shift before and the day shift of Good Friday and then slowing dispatch of dockworkers the following Monday was not the end of disruptive labor actions at the country’s busiest port complex. Bill Mongelluzzo reported in the Journal of Commerce (JOC) that the local faction of the ILWU began “red-tagging” perfectly fine cargo-handling equipment at the ports’ automated terminals. This slows operations by forcing the equipment to be inspected before it can continue to be used. Additionally, the ILWU Local 13 has executed sporadic labor action at the non-automated terminals.
It’s also been reported that the slow dispatching of workers has been continuing.
Probably not coincidentally, this latest series of labor action began right after the decision on the jurisdictional dispute at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal-5 came down harshly against the ILWU.
Yeah, the ILWU could really use a positive headline right now. This certainly could be seen as motive to put out a statement rehashing “tentative agreement” on “key issues,” making it sound like new, positive news.
5. Negotiations Didn’t Even Happen Last Week
Shrinking even more the likelihood of new tentative agreements having been reached is the fact there weren’t even negotiations last week.
Coastwide negotiations were not held this week because some ILWU officers were attending a convention, sources said.
So no new agreements were reached last week. Are we then to believe that the ILWU and PMA had a breakthrough this week, but only the ILWU wants to announce it? If new “tentative agreement” on issues had been reached before last week, why wouldn’t a statement go out during the week when no negotiations were happening? Was that convention just so consuming that no one in the whole ILWU would have time to write (or agree to if the PMA was actually involved) an extremely short statement?
When exactly did “tentative agreement” on “key issues” happen? Oh yeah, we already covered that. No details, no comment from the ILWU.
6. New Tentative Agreement Wouldn’t Mean New Contract Is Close
Let’s give the ILWU the benefit of the doubt for the moment. Let’s say this week they made a tentative agreement on some key issues. Would that mean we’re close to seeing a new master contract and ending this year-long (so far) negotiation period? No.
The last time the ILWU announced tentative agreement on an issue (and actually in conjunction with the PMA) nine months went by with no news of any progress in negotiations. That’s long enough for a woman to conceive, grow a baby in her womb, and give birth at full term. But apparently that’s not long enough for the ILWU and PMA to reach terms on a new contract.
ILWU’s statement of “tentative agreement” on “key issues” is not news. It sounds like spin, simply stating something that has happened at some point along the way in the negotiation process. If called out, the ILWU can say they didn’t lie because they didn’t. No details were provided, so if you thought the statement meant new agreements were reached on “key issues” you were making an assumption.
What is news is the port disruption the union creates through labor action, though that’s not unexpected.
Shippers have had enough of costly port congestion and cargo delays each time the ILWU master contract expires. That’s why shippers have diverted cargo to East and Gulf ports whenever possible over the last year and a half. That’s why some of that market share won’t come back to West Coast ports. That’s why shippers are writing letters to the president.
But in the end, shippers will still get more disruption. We’ve seen it over and over again. When it’s time for the ILWU to negotiate a new contract, shippers can count on disruptive labor action from the union, usually in the form of slow downs. ILWU’s actions speak much louder than its words.