Amata calls for swift fix to West Coast port dispute
Congresswoman Aumua Amata has joined her congressional colleagues in calling for a swift resolution to the port labor dispute at U.S. West Coast ports which has caused shipping delays for American Samoa, where the Congresswoman says “shelves are bare and our people are getting hungry”.
Aumua’s call was made yesterday in a news conference with other Congressional members in Washington D.C. while the labor dispute has escalated to a new level with a four-day lock down which has again raised more concerns from the Lolo Administration. Pacific Air Cargo says its stands ready to operate extra charter flights to American Samoa and Guam.
At the news conference, Amata explained that her home district “is economically and geographically isolated and ...that sea shipping is the lifeline of American Samoa; it is our umbilical cord.”
“On a small island such as ours, there’s no railway service or trucking, there is only one lifeline, and that is sea shipping,” she explained. ”American Samoa almost exclusively relies on importing our food.”
“Right now our [store] shelves are bare, our people are getting hungry, and the price of goods have skyrocketed,” she declared, adding that she joins her colleagues in calling for a “swift resolution” of the labor dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (LWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) “to get our ports running again and get the goods to those who need it the most.”
The Congressman’s office provided not only a video of the news conference but a separate news release, which also states that American Samoa depends heavily on incoming ships from the West Coast “to supply our hospital with medicine and supplies, our store shelves, lunch programs and small businesses.”
Concerns by other Congressional members were primarily about farmers and manufacturers from their states and districts, whose fruits, vegetables and other perishable goods are sitting at the ports rotting away, losing millions of dollars for these farmers; and port workers who are uncertain about their future.
PMA AND GOV’S CONCERNS
In a statement issued Wednesday, PMA says that in light of the ongoing and costly ILWU slowdowns, PMA members will temporarily suspend premium-pay weekend and holiday vessel operations on four dates, while yard, gate and rail operations will continue at terminal operators’ discretion.
In Southern California, terminal operators will expand daytime vessel operations on non-holiday weekdays, it says, adding that the four dates affected by the suspension of vessel operations would be yesterday (President Lincoln’s Birthday); Saturday Feb. 14; Sunday, Feb. 15; and Monday Feb. 16 (Washington’s Birthday— and also a federal holiday— President’s Day.)
“Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion,” PMA spokesman Wade Gates said in a media statement. “The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet, and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock.
“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,” he said.
However the Dockworkers union has denied any slowdown.
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s office is keeping a close watch on the port dispute and the governor is even more concerned with the latest move by PMA with a temporary lock down.
“We had hoped that the proposed dock shutdown alluded to by PMA would not materialize. The shutdown will no doubt further exacerbate food and supply shortages for us,” said Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, the governor’s executive assistant.
In response to the port shutdowns, Pacific Air Cargo said Wednesday night that it will operate an additional B747 Freighter service between Honolulu and Los Angeles this coming Sunday.
The company is closely monitoring the situation on an hour-by-hour basis on the West Cost and says it stands ready to operate special charter flights to American Samoa and to Guam, “if the port shutdown becomes protracted.”
Pacific Air Cargo operates a weekly flight every Friday from Los Angeles to Pago Pago, with a stop in Honolulu. The cargo flight arrives in Pago Pago this afternoon, however it was unclear at press time as to how many pounds of cargo the flight is bringing in today.
Samoa News understands that some local stores are shipping via air freight necessary supplies, while the next container vessel from the U.S. is due to arrive Feb. 22. Samoa News will provide online any updates on the port labor dispute over the weekend at www.samoanews.com