Work resumes at Port of Oakland amid labor dispute

Byby Wayne Freedman and Elissa Harrington KGO logo
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Work resumes at Port of Oakland amid labor dispute
U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is in San Francisco Tuesday to meet with negotiators in an attempt to resolve a West Coast port dispute that's been dragging on for months.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Work resumed at the Port of Oakland Tuesday after a four-day work-stoppage in a labor dispute that's dragged on for months.

The Port of Oakland says it's bad because imports were down 39-percent last month compared to January of 2014 and exports were down 26-percent.

One of President Obama's top administration officials was in the Bay Area Tuesday trying to end the West Coast port dispute, just as dockworkers return to work after being off the job four out of the last five days.

According to the Port of Oakland, before the dispute longshoremen averaged 30 to 34 boxes moved per hour. Since it began, it's down to 20. Longshoremen blame their employers and employers blame the longshoremen. "We have a lot of work to do. We just can't do it if that makes any sense," Progressive Transportation Terminal Manager Josh Zicherman said.

He says it's been this way for three months and it's getting worse.

The needs of these those independent truckers waiting for work outside his Zicherman's door are growing frustrated. "We're at the mercy of the LLWU right now and the PMA and we're just really stuck in the middle," he said.

They are stuck waiting while Perez negotiates. His visit has yet to generate any immediate help for people like Roberto Soto, who owns one truck and continues to run it at a loss of $3,000 a week. "Trying to feed our families, pay the truck, pay mortgage and not enough money," Soto said.

On Tuesday, the Port of Oakland reported a 32-percent drop in volume for January, citing the nine-month contractual dispute between dockworkers and their employers.

Consequences of this slowdown grow more significant with every passing day. "There are 73,000 jobs that depend on the Port of Oakland. If long-term this issue isn't settled, cargo will divert. It will go to other US West Coast gateways. Volume will decline in Oakland. Jobs will be at risk," Port of Oakland Mike Zampa said.

The last contract ended in July and now, both sides have failed to agree on issues including pay. Over the President's Day weekend, 29 ports on the West Coast were shut down. With no loading or unloading of cargo ships.

The work slowdown has affected industries far and wide from Central California citrus growers whose perishable fruits are at risk of rotting, while waiting to move through the ports, to the auto industry, which is seeing a shortage of parts because of the slowdown.

The White House has been very hands-off on the issue until now. With exporters losing so much money, many lawmakers have called on the president to intervene.