If members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union are looking for someone to blame for their spoiled-child reputation, all they have to do is look in the mirror.
When it comes to agricultural exports, they have the reverse Midas touch. Everywhere they go, farmers have had their livelihoods threatened.
Earlier this year, the ILWU fussed with several grain terminal operators, putting the region’s wheat farmers at risk by picketing and eventually closing one grain export terminal just as wheat harvest shifted into high gear. According to the National Labor Relations Board, they threatened management and harassed barge operators, which were not even involved in the dispute.
Now the ILWU’s finest minds are turning their attention to container ports along the U.S. West Coast. Massive work slowdowns have taken place, with the union blaming shortages of trucks and the Pacific Maritime Association, which operates the ports. They even blame the ship owners, saying modern, larger vessels are too much for them to handle.
All of which is hogwash. The only thing that has changed in the past couple of months is the speed that ILWU members do their jobs.
U.S. agriculture — especially in the West — depends on the export market. Agricultural exporters — apples, potatoes, dairy products, hay, rice, meat, grass seed, nuts, agricultural chemicals, even Christmas trees and dozens of other crops and products — have been put at risk because of the ILWU’s reckless work slowdown. All such crops are time-sensitive and must reach their overseas destinations before they spoil, but the ILWU just keeps slowing traffic down.
The impact continues to spread across farm country and elsewhere. Containers and truckers are tied up at the ports — courtesy of the ILWU — leaving an inadequate supply for domestic deliveries across the nation.
It may be presumed that the ILWU has a beef with the port operators. That’s OK. Unions exist to protect the rights of their members. But when that overflows into a situation that hurts importers, exporters, shipping companies, farmers, cooperatives, cold storages, processors, businesses, truck drivers, consumers — and just about anyone else even remotely related to the ports — that’s wrong.
The ILWU wants a deal with the port operators. Fair enough. Act like responsible adults and negotiate one, don’t try to destroy even the most innocent of bystanders as your union minions whine and moan.
One of the issues the ILWU fears most is automation of the ports. Someday, the ILWU’s leaders fear, computers will operate the cranes and other equipment that load and unload the huge ships that call at the ports.
What they don’t realize is the ILWU, through its actions, has created the best possible argument for that automation. Its childlike protestations, slowdowns and cavalier disregard for everyone else builds the best case ever for automating the ports.
And the fewer ILWU members involved in that, the better.