The labor-management conflict between the company Luis Ayala Colón, operator of the San Juan Port, and the Union of Workers of the docks - International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA Local 1740) - has kept 25 percent of the international merchandise that arrives at the island stranded since last Saturday, equivalent to 3,000 cargo wagons, mainly with supplies of pharmaceutical products and perishable foods.
The information offered by THE WEEKLY JOURNAL sources was confirmed by the parties, and although the union assured that they are allowing the unloading of basic necessities, the commercial sector argues that “dislocation” is already being generated in the distribution chain.
According to one source, due to the labor dispute, international cargo ships are not being unloaded and “there were already several ships that were to arrive in Puerto Rico last week, but didn’t even come due to this issue.” They explained that the dock is hosting Northern Diplomat freighters since July 17, which is partially unloaded, and the MV Fouma, since July 20, which has not been touched.
Furthermore, GH Pampero —which was supposed to arrive on the island on July 24— did not come, and JPO Scorpius, which was due to arrive last Monday, has been detained for a week in Caucedo, in the Dominican Republic. The source indicated that the ships Vega Vela and the Aldebaran, which were supposed to arrive between Monday and Tuesday, did not come either.
In Puerto Rico, international merchandise represents 30 percent of total imports. The remaining 70 percent comes from the U.S. mainland.
Labor Secretary Carlos Rivera Santiago reported that a mediator from the agency has been working on the situation. “Both parties met at the Labor Department on Friday and Saturday. We continue to work on the controversy where some issues have been resolved. On Wednesday, work will resume addressing pending issues,” he stated.
Hernán F. Ayala, executive VP of the company Luis A. Ayala Colón Sucrs. Inc. pointed out that on Saturday, July 17, the leaders of the ILA 1740 Union ordered its members to stop stowage operations of the ship Northern Diplomat, for which charges were filed against the union before the National Labor Relations Board.
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“The union’s determination to bring its members to a strike that we consider illegal comes in disregard of the proactive efforts made by the company and the willingness to find solutions that we have supported. It has been our intention to find alternatives to attend to and resolve their concerns. However, they have decided to suspend the work despite the disaster that this may imply in the supply haulage chain,” Ayala said.
He assured that despite the efforts they have made, “on July 20, the union gave the order for the stowage work on the MV Fouma not to be carried out either.” Ayala affirmed that they have offered salary increases and other benefits, but understands that the roadblock is to request the creation of jobs that do not exist.
The legal representative of the Union, William Marrero, explained to THE WEEKLY JOURNAL that the conflict is due to the employer implementing a new technology system to enter data, but refusing to hire personnel to perform these functions. He pointed out that the company began using heavy equipment operators to carry out this management role and the union opposed them carrying out both functions at the same time. He said the employer chose to use supervisors in such functions, which undermines the jobs of the specific unit.
Manuel Reyes, executive director of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Marketing, Industry and Food Distribution, assured that the lack of some food is already perceptible. “Many suppliers are already facing problems in obtaining their products, which affects an inventory limitation. This is in addition to the problems that we previously brought with the COVID-19 situation and the recent truckers’ strike,” he said.
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Reyes stressed that the situation is the result of the docks having been monopolized. “If there were several company options, a labor dispute on one side would not affect the other. What we have always argued...,” he added.
Iván Báez, president of the Retail Trade Association, affirmed that the longer the labor dispute continues, the greater the impact on the supply chain. He is concerned that ships will have to go back without leaving their merchandise here. “It must be resolved immediately because the lack of supplies is already being felt,” he reiterated.
Carlos Rodríguez, president of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, stated that every time the distribution chain is disrupted, the sector is undermined.
“Paralyzing entry through the docks for one day is bad, two days is critical, and three days is devastating. It should not be allowed. This causes manufacturers to have to notify corporations and clients of not being able to comply because in this process of closures or strikes, much of the raw material does not reach companies,” he stated.