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West Coast Port Negotiations are Underway

May 23, 2022
With ILWU-PMA contract negotiations now underway, all eyes are on the negotiating table as the two sides work out a new labor contract

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With the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) contract set to expire on July 1, contract talks have begun and are being closely watched by businesses that have been severely impacted by ongoing supply chain shortages, transportation disruptions and logistics snarls.

According to Times of San Diego, the labor negotiations will take place every day in San Francisco until a deal is reached between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), the latter of which represents employers that operate marine terminals and shipping lines.

The New York Times says nearly three-fourths of the union members work at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the primary gateways for shipments coming to the U.S. from Asia.

“A labor impasse could worsen the floating traffic jams that have kept dozens of ships waiting in the Pacific before they can pull up to the docks,” the publication adds. “That could aggravate shortages and send already high prices for consumer goods soaring.”

Putting the Cards on the Table

PMA’s Jim McKenna said the association is committed to negotiating a contract without disruption. “Any disruption would be debilitating to the U.S. economy,” he told the publication. “We and the ILWU need to stay at the table and bargain, without any impacts on West Coast marine terminals.”

With nearly half of Asian imports destined for the U.S. moving through the West Coast ports, which collectively supported nearly $2 trillion in economic value in the U.S. last year, all eyes are on the negotiations process. Reflecting back to 2002, these processes don’t always come to a swift and amicable end.

Ports from San Diego to Seattle were shut down after the PMA locked out dock workers, accusing them of taking part in a slowdown that amounted to a strike in all but name,” Times of San Diego reports. “The lockout lasted some 10 days.”

Supply Chain Impacts

If talks bog down, shippers fear that it could exacerbate the already fragile supply chains for companies that depend on the ports. For the union, the main issues are higher wages and automation that would eliminate jobs on the docks, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal, which expects the talks to extend past the July 1 expiration date for the current labor agreement. “They always do,” McKenna said during a May press conference.

The bargaining agreement covers over 15,600 dockworkers at 29 ports, including thousands who work at the Port of Long Beach and Port of Los Angeles, and who are members of the ILWU Locals 13, 63 and 94. PMA represents 70 ocean carriers and marine terminal operators along the West Coast.

“I think everybody is optimistic going into this one that we’re going to get to where we need, and whether we go past July 1 or not is not the issue,” McKenna said at a recent press conference. “It’s just that we need to stay at the table and get an agreement without causing any further disruptions.”

A Healthy Start

From a general perspective, McKenna said the relationship between the two sides is “very healthy” at this point. “The pandemic and coming together and really working towards overcoming the obstacles have solidified our ability to work together.”

In an open letter explaining ILWU’s positioning, Willie Adams said the union is seeking a contract that “honors, respects and protects good American jobs and U.S. importers and exporters, while reflecting the hard work they have been doing not only throughout COVID but in our 88-year history at the ports,” CBS News reports.

“We make no apologies for achieving wages that allow workers to provide for their families, have retirement and the health care these difficult and dangerous jobs require,” Adams writes. “It’s our belief that the American Dream shouldn’t be reserved for CEOs and companies based overseas but should be within reach of the workers who are responsible for their employers’ success.”

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About the Author

Bridget McCrea | Contributing Writer | Supply Chain Connect

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers business and technology for various publications.