of Michael Pellegrini
the Longshore Lockout
I am a B registered longshoreman at
the Port of Tacoma. I have worked in
the industry since 1996. I normally
drive straddle carrier (strad). Last
week I worked 48 hours.
The way the normal work cycle usually
goes in Tacoma, in the early part of the week it’s typically pretty slow. Then, on Thursday through Saturday morning,
it gets very busy. If for example,
there are 50-100 jobs per day early in the week, on Thursday through Saturday,
there might be 150-200 jobs per shift.
This surge of work has always created
problems with staffing, but generally we’ve dealt with it – although often just
In current crisis following the end of
the lockout on October 9, 2002, we haven’t fared so well.
When we returned to work, every
terminal called for maximum manning on every shift.
We’re just not able to meet demands
like that when the demand extends more than a couple days. Basically, we have almost the exact precise
number of skilled workers to handle the normal workflow. This is an acceptable business
practice. It would be unusual for an
employer to train more skilled workers than they need.
With the congestion caused by the
lockout, essentially, it’s been the equivalent of a Friday night every night
and day since we returned to work – and because of that, the system is breaking
down. We’ve seen very acute shortages
of specialty skilled workers, such as crane drivers, strad drivers, top pick
and side pick operators and so on, as well as supervisors and foremen.
People simply cannot work 24 hours a
day, 7 days a week – although many have been trying. At this point, many people have been working extended overtime
shifts. A significant number have actually
worked 10-12 shifts in just the last week.
At the Evergreen Terminal (Pier 4)
where I normally work driving strad, the situation is perhaps worse than the
Prior to the lockout, Evergreen had
increased our workload to where the container yard was close to the maximum
storage capacity. There was an enormous
quantity of empty containers on the ground, block-stowed. In the years I have worked at Evergreen,
I’ve never seen that many block-stows before.
Prior to the lockout, we were so
desperate for space that Evergreen had the port paint lines for new rows in
areas that had previously been roads and aisle-ways. Plus, several areas that had been roads were also turned into
block-stows – for instance around the strad staging area at the in-gate, and in
back of the gatehouse main empty container block-stow.
Following our return to work, we’ve
had to be quite creative in finding space.
More block-stows have been created, mostly for import loads that we were
unable to find chassis for – something we’ve never done before. The general shortage of chassis is itself, a
serious problem. Plus often times,
containers are now dumped into “slop” rows, mixing several destinations and
sail dates, simply because the space doesn’t exist to sort them into discreet
rows. This means that these containers
may have to be re-handled several more times before they can be sent to their
final destination – which significantly slows things down.
Another result of mixing the
containers in rows is that while loading the ship, we now often have to move a
large number of containers to find the one we want – all while the cranes at
the ship stand-by. This as well, has
significantly slowed down the loading process.
When I worked for the ship on October
16, we probably spent an hour or more of down-time while we tried to locate
containers buried somewhere deep in a row.
On one occasion that day, I had to move four containers to get the one I
wanted – which took me probably 20 minutes.
Another time, we had to stop everything and move a bunch containers
(15-20 containers) out of a row, because the train strads were discharging to
that row and our supervisor was afraid they would bury our containers – this
took probably 30 minutes for the three of us.
Since returning to work, this sort of
situation has become the norm.
On October 17, I drove strad in the
yard at the Pier 4 Gate. Most of my day
was spent digging-out containers that had been “rolled” – bumped to a later
shipping date. Most of these containers
were buried deep in the rows, and I frequently had to shift 4-6 other
containers to get to the one which had been rolled. This is completely non-productive work that’s a direct result of
the congestion caused by the lockout.
And all these containers will have to be re-handled again several more
At present, every inch of space in the
Evergreen yard is allocated and in use.
Before any new ships can discharge cargo, the present import containers
must be loaded onto trains or trucks.
Finally recognizing the gravity of the
space problems, on Friday, October 18, Evergreen shifted strad manpower from
the ship to the gate to help move containers out of the yard.
In the week following, all of the same
problems as mentioned above continued to occur but were generally magnified as
the Evergreen yard continued to absorb even more containers. And as the crunch for space has gotten
worse, we’ve converted more former work areas to container storage (for
example, the container repair area, which now holds live reefers).
The problem with refrigerated
containers has been particularly acute for the past week, and for the first
time ever, we have had to resort to block-stowing live reefers simply because
there was no space left to put them in strad configuration.
On Friday, October 25, I spent
probably two hours shuffling live reefers from one place to another in an
attempt to make space for new arrivals.
Again, all of these containers will
have to be re-handled perhaps several times before they leave on a ship.
At one point, on October 28, we were
forced to leave live reefers containing apples unplugged in a block-stow area
all morning because there was no place to plug them in. Later in the day, after the ship had loaded
reefers and freed up some spots, we again moved the reefers to proper rows.
This is all completely non-productive
work caused by the lock-out.
Subject to manpower shortages, both
the Pier 4 Gate and the North Intermodal Train operation have been working
heroically to move the cargo in and out of the terminal. But staffing is finite.
There is only so much we can do. We are working as fast as we can. But we have an infrastructure built to move
perhaps 6,000 containers a week, and now we’re trying to move 12,000.
That just doesn’t work.
I declare under the penalty of perjury
and the laws of the State of Washington that the foregoing is true and correct
to the best of my knowledge.
Signed, at Tacoma, Washington, this 28th
day of October 2002.