ILWU shuts down some US West Coast port terminals

by | Jun 5, 2023 | News, Updates

Dockworkers on Friday effectively shut down some terminals across every major container gateway on the US West Coast after coastwide contract negotiations broke down Thursday over wages.

“Today, the ILWU is staging concerted and disruptive work actions that have effectively shut down operations at some marine terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,” the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents terminal operators and shipping lines in negotiations with labor, said in a statement Friday. “The union is also staging similar work actions that have shut down or severely impacted terminal operations at the ports of Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle and Hueneme.”

According to four sources with knowledge of the contract negotiations between the PMA and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, cargo handling has been partially or, in some cases, completely shut down at certain terminals.

“It’s spotty,” one source said. “Some terminals are partially working. It’s terminal by terminal.”

The ILWU international office declined to comment. ILWU Local 13, which represents workers in Los Angeles and Long Beach, issued a statement Friday saying rank-and-file union members “had taken it upon themselves to voice their displeasure with the ocean carriers’ and terminal operators’ position.”

ILWU locals initiated sporadic job actions at individual terminals in April as the coastwide contract negotiations approached the one-year anniversary on May 10. However, the ILWU and PMA reportedly reached a tentative agreement on the major local issues that had been holding up the coastwide negotiations. The talks then turned to wages and pension benefits at the coastwide level, and no serious interruptions in cargo handling were reported over the past month.

That all changed on Thursday. “The negotiations blew up yesterday,” a second source said Friday. The ILWU and PMA are reportedly far apart on wages. No negotiations are scheduled for Friday, and it is uncertain when the talks will resume.

It is not unusual for the ILWU to target individual terminals rather than shutting down an entire port or all ports on the West Coast. That would attract unfavorable attention from the press and could result in federal intervention in the negotiations.

The current contract talks, which have been underway for nearly 13 months, have contributed to a large drop in the trans-Pacific market share of US West Coast ports. The West Coast’s share of US imports from Asia in April was 56.5%, down from 60.4% in May 2022, according to PIERS, a sister product of the Journal of Commerce within S&P Global.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) has said that retailers will continue to divert as much of their discretionary cargo as possible to East and Gulf Coast ports until the new contract is ratified.

In a statement Friday, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) said, “Retailers are alarmed to learn of the work stoppage under way at several West Coast ports. Our nation’s West Coast ports are a crucial link in the retail supply chain. Any interruption in their operations immediately has a ripple effect that impedes retailers’ ability to quickly and efficiently deliver for American consumers.”

Once talks resume and a tentative contract is reached, it will be distributed to the ILWU rank and file. The ILWU locals will meet with their members to discuss the agreement, and then a date will be set for the ratification vote. This process normally takes more than a month.

Source: Journal Of Commerce

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