Dockworkers in Southern California disrupted cargo activity Friday at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — major entry points for the nation’s imports — as well as at several other West Coast ports after conditions worsened. contract talks in recent days.
The Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents shipping companies and port terminal operators, said the International Longshore and Warehouse Union was “engaging in concerted and disruptive job actions that effectively shut down operations” in several terminals in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.
The union will be held meetings that stop work Thursday night, and on Friday, members either did not show up for work or took individual work breaks. The combination snarled traffic at the ports, forcing some terminals to close.
Spokesmen for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which combined to form the nation’s largest cargo complex, said late Friday that the ports were operating despite labor shortages. An Oakland port spokeswoman said cargo operations were halted because there were not enough dockworkers to handle containers, and normal operations were not expected to resume until Monday.
“As we continue to monitor terminal activity, we urge PMA and ILWU to continue negotiations in good faith toward a fair settlement,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement.
While the labor unrest is temporary, it underscores a high-stakes dance between wealthy shipping companies and a powerful labor union, with ramifications for the 175,000 workers in Southern California – employed at the ports themselves as well as related businesses – moving cargo worth $469 billion a year, port data show.
The union’s latest action is the boldest yet to influence contract negotiations, which focus primarily on pay after reaching an interim agreement in the role of automation. More than 22,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports have been working without a contract since July 1.
ILWU Local 13, which represents dockworkers in Southern California, said about 12,000 of its members had “committed themselves to expressing their displeasure with the position of ocean carriers and terminal operators.”
In April, dockworkers forced a roughly 24-hour shutdown at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, fueling fears that the failure of contract negotiations could spark a 2002-like paralyzing impasse. when President Bush stepped in to end an 11-day employer lockout of West Coast longshoremen.
Last month, the Pacific Maritime Assn. complained, Union members began taking their meal breaks simultaneously, instead of staggered. The employer group described it as an “occupational action.”
The two ports in Southern California handle nearly 40% of US cargo container imports from Asia.
In a statement, ILWU International President Willie Adams said negotiations are still ongoing.
“We’ll get to that, but it’s important to understand that West Coast dockworkers continued to grow the economy during the pandemic and lost their lives doing so. We will not settle for an economic package that does not recognize the heroism and personal sacrifice of the ILWU workforce that has lifted the shipping industry to record profits,” said Adams.
Contract uncertainty at West Coast ports is having long-term effects, experts say.
As labor negotiations dragged on and union members took industrial action, some nervous retailers and manufacturers rerouted goods, causing imports and exports to fall. in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in recent months.
“When you have seasonal delays, it will encourage shippers to use Oakland, Tacoma, Long Beach. It will be very difficult for ports to convince shippers that these ports will be reliable gateways for international trade,” said international trade economist Jock O’Connell at Beacon Economics.
West Coast ports, which once had a geographical advantage due to their proximity to Asia, are increasingly competing against others such as the Panama Canal and along the Gulf of Mexico for transpacific containerized imports and exports .
“An event like today reminds shippers that it’s riskier to ship to the West Coast even longer,” O’Connell said. “It will affect income and jobs locally.”
A retail trade group on Friday urged a quick resolution.
“Our country’s West Coast ports are an important link in the retail supply chain. Any delay or disruption to their operations has an immediate impact that hampers retailers’ ability to deliver quickly and efficiently for American consumers,” said Jessica Dankert, vice president of supply chain for the Retail Industry Leaders Assn. .