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White House urged to shepherd labor talks at West Coast ports

Industry groups warn of economic damage without quick resolution of expiring ILWU contract

A longshore worker drivers a yard tractor at the Port of Los Angeles. (Photo: Port of L.A.)

Four dozen industry groups asked the White House on Tuesday to play an early role in impending contract negotiations between terminal management and dockworkers at West Coast ports to ensure there is no deterioration in cargo processing amid ongoing port congestion and trade uncertainty associated with the war in Ukraine.

The contract between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is set to expire at the end of June. Automation and higher compensation are expected to be the top agenda items, with port operators interested in technology to address inefficiencies contributing to COVID-related backlogs and labor seeking a cut of record profits by ocean carriers, which control many terminals.

Contentious bargaining in 2001 and 2014 led to huge disruptions — a lockout and a work slowdown — that impacted the national economy for weeks until container piles could get delivered.

“Pandemic-related disruptions in the nation’s supply chain have been costly and inconvenient,” Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Leaders Industry Association, said in a statement that coincided with correspondence to the Biden administration. “Allowing a work slowdown or a shutdown to impact operations would amount to a self-inflicted wound, compounding congestion and leading to even higher costs on everyday products for consumers.”

U.S. West Coast ports — from San Diego to Seattle — account for more than 44% of container import traffic.

The letter from 49 groups, ranging from the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Toy Association to the North American Meat Institute and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, urged the White House to encourage and, if necessary, convene the parties to facilitate negotiations.


Last week, the National Retail Federation asked the PMA and ILWU to start talks as soon as possible so an agreement can be hashed out before the deadline.

Uncertainty about the outcome is already causing shippers to detour cargo from the West Coast ports, or make other arrangements, in case the ports stop functioning well, the industry representatives said.

“Previous labor disputes at ports cost the U.S. economy upwards of $1 to $2 billion per day,” said Steve Lamar, president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “To say the stakes are even higher today is an extreme understatement, as even a short slowdown or shutdown will disrupt already fragile supply chains and compound inflationary pressure.”

The letter noted that U.S. ports rank low in productivity comparisons to global competitors and need “targeted investment and support for infrastructure modernization and automation with workers skilled and prepared for these advanced jobs.”

The leaders also called for continued administration focus on systemic operational challenges and facilitation of data sharing across all stakeholder groups so everyone knows when containers are available to move.

“We believe these are vital elements that must be considered in any final agreement between PMA and ILWU. We agree with the administration’s assessment that our country’s ports are the gateways for getting goods to market, and we ask the Biden-Harris Administration to compel the parties to address these important issues now to ensure our supply chains are fully prepared to support continued economic growth and mitigate potential disruptions,” the trade associations said.

Click here for more FreightWaves and American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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2 Comments

  1. William Proctor

    This effort to have early negotiations is another effort to drive the ILWU into an agreement that allows for more automation, which much less efficient operations than manned operations in every port on the Pacific Coast:
    Retailers need to keep their noses out of the business of PMA and iLWU and allow for the natural process of negotiations to play out. Workers do not want to strike, they just want a fair and level playing field in which to negotiate without interference from anyone, even the Federal Government!

  2. Jason

    I delivered to port of Oakland for years, Ports of America , Trapac and SSA
    all are overpaid lazy union workers.
    1 hour lunch yeah, yard workers quit 20 min before lunch and then come back out on yard for 20 min after. Slow no sense of motivation. I have no use for unions. They
    Incentivize laziness. Saw so many workers on the clock hiding from view of cameras.
    Tearing up port equipment by racing thru the rows and crashing .
    For the money they make, all they do is cry baby. I wish they would close and reopen union free. Pay a good wage and incentivize
    Streamlining and innovation.

Comments are closed.

Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]
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