After halting the loading and unloading of ships last weekend at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, shippers and terminal operators are upping the ante by suspending upcoming weekend and holiday activity, denying higher weekend and holiday pay to longshore workers. The union called the move a strong-arm tactic aimed at putting economic pressure on its members.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers of the longshore workers at the ports, says it will halt loading and unloading work this weekend, as well as tomorrow, Lincoln’s birthday, and Monday, Feb. 16, which is President’s Day.

The association said it is up to the terminal operators whether or not to order work for yard, gate and rail operations. The action follows on the heels of a similar suspension of work last weekend.

Employers have been negotiating with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union since May for a new labor contract. The association blames much of the congestion on work slowdowns by union workers, saying port yards are congested with existing containers that need to be cleared first to make way for newly unloaded containers.

Association spokesman Wade Gates said shippers and terminal operators aren’t willing to pay for slow work, especially during holiday periods when pay is higher. Weekend and holiday pay is about 50 percent higher than the basic wage for longshoremen, the association said.

“What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike,” Gates said.

In its response to the association’s suspension, the union pointed out that it’s the second time in less than a week that employers have idled container ships. It also called out the group for allegedly cancelling the most recent negotiating session, scheduled for today.

“This is an effort by the employers to put economic pressure on our members and to gain leverage in contract talks,” said Robert McEllrath, the union’s president.

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