Dockworkers at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are taking their unpaid lunch breaks at the same time, rather than staggering them, which is causing delays at two of the busiest container ports in the country, according to the Pacific Maritime Association.

Past labor contracts between the association, which represents shippers and terminal operators, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have included a provision that gives employers the right to assign staggered lunch breaks to ensure there are always workers available, according to a statement from the PMA.

“Beginning last week, ILWU Local 13 has stopped complying with that contract provision,” the statement reads. The work action began last Wednesday, the association stated.

The most recent contract between the groups expired on July 1 of last year, over two months after negotiations began for a new agreement. The parties remain at the bargaining table nine months later with no announcement of an impending agreement.

The union, for its part, did not deny or confirm the allegations or comment as to why workers would take their breaks together.

“The ILWU-PMA contract allows dockworkers to take a lunch break just like everyone else,” Willie Adams, ILWU International president, said in a statement.

The ports of Long Beach and LA declined to comment.

Early on, the PMA and ILWU agreed to a media blackout but stated no slowdowns, stoppages or lockouts were expected. Shutting down terminals for two hours each day, however, could be construed as a slowdown or stoppage.

The PMA stated terminals at LA and Long Beach are effectively closed from 12-1 p.m. and 10-11 p.m. each day, causing “significant delays.” Because there is no approved contract in place, the association stated it does not have the ability to enforce the now-expired staggered lunch break clause.

Adams noted that longshore workers continue to move cargo every day as agreed upon.

“Terminal operators, however, open and close their gates at will, and limit their hours of operations when they are supposed to be open around the clock – 24/7,” Adams said. “Longshore workers have proven that they are the most reliable part of the supply chain.”

The union noted that terminals are operating at 75% capacity due to the recent decline in containers moving in and out of the twin ports. The ongoing negotiations are one of the causes attributed to the dwindling container volumes at the San Pedro Bay ports, with shippers diverting cargo to East and Gulf coast ports to mitigate the effects should a strike occur.

The loss of market share was enough that Long Beach lost its long-held rank as the second-busiest container port in the country to the Port of New York and New Jersey. Los Angeles held on to the No. 1 spot for 2022 but last month was outperformed by Long Beach.

The union also stated there are “more than adequate” appointments available for pickups, which it claims are underutilized by as much as 60-80%, outside the lunch hour.

“It should be noted that trucks line up outside the terminal gates year-round for various reasons,” the union stated, “but the employer highlights these lines during negotiations in an effort to influence public opinion.”

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Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.