With the U.S. West Coast dockworker contract set to expire on Friday, lawmakers and shippers are getting increasingly nervous about the potential fallout if terminal management and labor are unable to succeed at the bargaining table.
In a letter sent on Thursday to Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), 21 congressional Democrats, led by Rep. Linda Sánchez of California, urged the two sides to “stay committed to the collective bargaining process and work in good faith to reach an agreement.”
Watch: PMA’s Jim McKenna previews labor talks
The current contract between the PMA, negotiating on behalf of container terminal operators at 30 West Coast ports, and the ILWU, which represents 22,000 dockworkers at those ports, is set to expire on Friday. However, contract negotiations have typically extended beyond deadline, and the parties have committed to ensuring cargo flow and continuing to negotiate beyond Friday’s deadline. Port automation is widely considered to be the issue most susceptible to contention.
“We understand that given the complexity of these negotiations, it may be difficult to reach a deal before the expiration of the current agreement,” the letter states. “We also recognize that this timing is typical and appreciate your shared assurances that cargo operations will continue beyond the expiration of the contract.”
Watch: ILWU leadership preview labor talks
But even a brief port shutdown would be felt at a time when the supply chain is already stressed, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), a major U.S. importer of ocean containers.
“The U.S. economy, American importers and exporters, the tens of millions of workers they employ, and the hundreds of millions of consumers they serve deserve reliability and confidence in the global supply chain,” said Nate Herman, AAFA senior vice president of policy. “Every hour of work counts at the West Coast ports to ensure this stability.”
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