Saturday, 28 March 2020

Coronavirus: Port of Oakland longshoremen threaten to walk off job


Shwanika Narayan 


Some dockworkers at the Port of Oakland are threatening to refuse work at a terminal that they say isn’t properly sanitizing equipment and facilities for employees. The move could halt logistics operations and further strain the global supply chain amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Bay Area representatives of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union, Locals 10, 34, 75 and 91, are asking SSA Marine to thoroughly clean equipment at its Oakland terminal between shifts. All other container terminals now employ a separate staff for this except for the SSA, said Keith Shanklin, spokesman for Local 34.
SSA Marine, which leases a terminal from the Port of Oakland, is the employer of the longshoremen.
“They’re trying to have us come in and clean the equipment. That’s not our job, that’s their job,” Shanklin said. He said under current contract rules, employers are required to provide safe working conditions for employees. This includes efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus by making sure thorough sanitation is enforced, he said.
The interruption of work could be disastrous for the port, which accounts for 99% of all containerized goods moving through Northern California. Three-quarters of the port’s trade happens with Asia. The coronavirus outbreak, as well as measures to stem its spread, have led to many nonessential businesses shutting down. Over the coming months, supply chains may sputter and bottlenecks emerge as people buy out of panic.
Port workers have been on edge since the Grand Princess docked at an empty pier at the Port of Oakland last week, Shanklin said. The luxury ocean liner had more than 3,500 people on board, including at least 21 with the coronavirus, many of whom were later transferred to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield.

The repercussions of labor disruption amid the pandemic could be vast. If longshoremen decide they don’t feel safe, they will not come to work, Shanklin said. The ILWU represents about 1,000 dockworkers at the Port of Oakland. The refusal to work would not be union-wide or port-wide, at this time, Shanklin said. If it came to be, it would affect 60 to 100 workers primarily working at the SSA terminal, he said.
Demands from the local union chapters in disinfecting the worksite include sanitizing equipment, work areas, terminal bathrooms, mechanic shops, tools, machines, turnstiles and gates.
The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators, including SSA, said the safety of all ILWU members is of paramount importance to West Coast terminal operators, along with the continued operation of these vital maritime gateways.
“Terminal operators will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of workers while keeping terminals operational,” the association said. They did not directly address the claims made against SSA.
If SSA doesn’t meet the demands of the union in the next few days, Shanklin said, it leaves the union no choice but to ask some of its labor force to not go into work.
Shwanika Narayan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: shwanika.narayan@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @shwanika

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