SFIA Presses for Intervention in West Coast Ports Contract Talks to Avoid More Disruptions

Washington, D.C. (March 21, 2023): Despite recent assurances that commerce would flow through west coast ports without labor disruptions, a new policy by dock workers has led to work slowdowns. As West Coast Port workers enter month 10 without a new contract, unions at Long Beach and Los Angeles have stopped staggering meal breaks. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) does not recognize PMA’s right to assign staggered meal breaks for workers as agreed to in the previous labor agreement since it expired last July.

The new dock worker meal policy has forced ports to shut down for an hour during lunch and dinner, resulting in avoidable back-ups at ports. With 40 percent of U.S. seaborne imports flowing through 29 west coast ports, this disruptive action could push more shipments away from west coast ports. Importers are reluctant to commit to west coast ports during protracted labor negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), representing ports and shippers, and the ILWU representing 22,000 dockworkers at 29 west coast ports. The two sides announced a tentative agreement on healthcare and other benefits in February but have made little progress since.

Slowdown tactics have been employed during previous labor talks to expedite negotiations on a new contract. Freight delays cost individual importers millions of dollars in increased expenses and lost sales. The current sticking points for a new contract center around the assignment of jobs and the use of automated handling equipment on the docks to increase efficiency and lower labor costs. 

With long-term shipping contracts typically finalized by mid-April, the timing of the slowdown coincides with a critical period for importers and retailers. The contracts will determine the volume of imports destined for U.S. ports on the West Coast, East Coast, and Gulf Coast. Many importers have already opted to rely more on East and Gulf Coast ports due to the uncertainty created by ongoing West Coast Labor talks. As more shipments are directed to alternative ports, market share at west coast ports has dropped, with a 43 percent decline in shipments to the Port of Los Angeles and a 32 percent drop at Long Beach year-over-year from February 2022.

Negotiations to resolve outstanding issues continue and quick resolution would avoid additional disruptions at west coast ports. SFIA has joined other business interests in a letter to President Biden, urging him to intervene in the talks to keep ports operating at full capacity during contract negotiations.

Click here to view the letter.

For more information or for questions, please contact Bill Sells, SVP, Government & Public Affairs, at [email protected].

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