US ports are staying open as an essential service, but their labour practices represent some challenges for social distancing.
US ports are doing their part to keep essential cargo flowing as the COVID-19 Coronavirus crisis worsens in the US. Executive Directors from multiple ports have put out statements highlighting that their facilities are operating as close to normal as possible, and ports are taking steps to manage the risk of infection spreading while working.
On the west coast, the ILWU and the PMA have implemented some changes to shift start times to allow equipment cabs to be cleaned before a new operator takes the controls.
One of the biggest risks, however, is the dispatch/hiring halls where jobs are allocated to ILWU members. Not every terminal uses dispatch halls to the same degree, but where they operate large numbers of people gather in one place. Some halls are asking ILWU members and casuals to gather outside and not enter the hall. Others have implemented staggered times for different classes of longshoremen and casuals to limit the number of people in the hall at one time. ILWU local 502 in Vancouver, Canada, has closed its hall and implemented a temporary dispatch system.
On the east coast the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) has implemented an "Isolate and Operate" strategy. “The 1,300-acre size of Savannah’s Garden City Terminal is enabling our Leadership Team to spread our workers out and minimize the risk of possible exposure,” the GPA said.
“Operationally, we are redesigning staffing and procedures, such as assigning operators to specific cranes and having them report directly to the machinery. All break rooms and group meeting areas have been closed.
“As a preventive measure, GPA is providing disinfectants to equipment operators, who have been instructed to wipe down their controls at the beginning and end of each shift. We are implementing deep cleaning of equipment and facilities. Additionally, GPA is strongly encouraging all employees to practice thorough handwashing and social distancing at work and at home”.
The Port of New York/New Jersey has implemented measures to try and limit face to face interaction between ILA members and truckers, vessel crew and other personnel that may be on the terminal.
As reported earlier this week, the ILA is battling to find Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for longshoremen, but there is a grave shortage of this equipment in the US. In a statement to members ILA president Harold Daggett said the ILA is “exhausting all avenues looking for PPE vendors and pressing Port Authorities to find supplies”.
The ILA is also lobbying to have ILA members who have been exposed to, have contracted Coronavirus or are caring for a sick family member, to be eligible to receive Federal Compensation under the Longshore and Harbour Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). Longshore labour is not covered by state worker’s compensation laws, so this requires a temporary amendment to the Longshore and Harbour Workers’ Compensation Act, which is Federal legislation.