(Reuters) - Negotiators for shipping lines and terminal operators at 29 ports on the U.S. West Coast on Tuesday said they would no longer assign crews to load and unload cargo ships overnight at the massive Los Angeles and Long Beach docks.
The move comes a day after the Pacific Maritime Association said the region's five largest ports, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, had seen backups "approaching complete gridlock," as contentious contract talks with the dockworkers union have stalled.
Management has accused the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) of orchestrating slowdowns to bolster its leverage at the bargaining table in the talks that have been under way for eight months.
Union officials, however, have consistently denied staging slowdowns, saying decisions made by management including cutting back on night crews were responsible for the gridlock.
Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the PMA, said on Tuesday night that the ILWU had been withholding crane drivers crucial to unloading cargo since November, which had led to increased congestion.
Adan Ortega, a spokesman for the ILWU, told Reuters that in November the union began only sending out trained and certified crane operators, saying that job-site accidents were occurring due to the use of unskilled workers.
Ortega said the PMA was not providing sufficient training for the operators, and was relying on uncertified and untrained workers.
Getzug said the PMA's move would refocus efforts during the night hours on removing the growing number of empty containers that had piled up on the terminal yards during the recent backup.
The move will not affect dayside work nor certain night shift employees who are not involved in loading or unloading ships, he said.
A federal mediator is currently involved in the negotiations between the association and the union, which represents some 20,000 dockworkers. The workers' latest contract expired on June
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Mark Potter)