Dockworkers disrupt Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, highlighting tough contract talks

LONG BEACH, CALIF. – JUNE 2, 2023. Trucks sit along the side of the road in the Port of Los Angeles after Southern California dockworkers disrupted cargo activity Friday, June 2, 2023, at both local ports – major entry points for the countrys imports – after contract talks deteriorated in recent days. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)(Luis Sinco) Dockworkers disrupt Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, highlighting tough contract talks Transportation Helen Li June 2, 2023 Southern California dockworkers disrupted cargo activity Friday at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports major entry points for the country’s imports as well as at some other West Coast ports after contract talks deteriorated in recent days.The Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents shipping companies and port terminal operators, said the International Longshore and Warehouse Union “is staging concerted and disruptive work actions that have effectively shut down operations” at several terminals in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma and Seattle and Tacoma, Wash. The union held stop-work meetings Thursday night, and on Friday, members either didn’t show up for work or staged individual work slowdowns. The combination snarled traffic at the ports, forcing some terminals to shut down.Spokespeople for the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, which combine to form the nation’s largest cargo complex, said late Friday that the ports were operating despite labor shortages. An Oakland port spokesperson said the cargo operations had halted because there weren’t enough dockworkers to handle containers, and normal operations weren’t expected to resume until Monday. “As we continue to monitor terminal activity, we urge the PMA and ILWU to continue negotiating in good faith toward a fair agreement,” Port of Long Beach port Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement. Southern California ports reopen. Shutdown highlights high-stakes contract talks Although the labor disturbance was temporary, it underscores a high-stakes dance between wealthy shipping companies and a powerful labor union, with ramifications for 175,000 Southern California workers employed at the harbors themselves as well as in related businesses moving freight valued at $469 billion a year, port data show.The powerful union’s latest work action is the boldest so far to sway contract negotiations, focused primarily on pay after reaching a tentative agreement on the role of automation that began more than a year ago. More than 22,000 dockworkers at and 29 West Coast ports have been working without a contract since July 1. ILWU Local 13, which represents Southern California dockworkers, said about 12,000 of its members have “taken it upon themselves to voice their displeasure with the ocean carriers and terminal operators position.”In April, local dockworkers forced an approximately 24-hour shutdown at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, exacerbat ing fears that failure of the high-stakes labor contract negotiations could bring about a paralyzing impasse like the one in 2002, when President Bush stepped in to end an 11-day employer lockout of West Coast longshoremen. The month before, the Pacific Maritime Assn. complained, union members started taking their meal breaks all at the same time, rather than staggering them. The employer group described it as a “work action.” The two Southern California ports handle nearly 40% of of U.S. cargo container imports from Asia. Workers want raises. Shippers want robots. The supply chain hinges on reaching a deal In a statement, ILWU International President Willie Adams noted that said negotiations are still ongoing underway . We are getting there, but its important to understand that West Coast dockworkers kept the economy going during the pandemic and lost their lives doing so. We arent going to settle for an economic package that doesnt recognize the heroic efforts and personal sacrifices of the ILWU workforce that lifted the shipping industry to record profits,” Adams said. Contract uncertainty at West Coast ports is having a long term effect, experts argue say . As labor negotiations have dragged on and union members have staged job actions, some nervous retailers and manufacturers have rerouted goods, causing imports and exports through the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports to fall in recent months. “When you have periodic disruptions, this will discourage shippers from using Oakland, Tacoma, Long Beach. Its going to be very difficult for the ports to convince to shippers that these ports will be reliable gateways for international trade,” said international trade economist Jock O’Connell at Beacon Economics. Ports on the West Coast, which historically held a geographical advantage because of their proximity to Asia, are increasingly competing against others such as the Panama Canal and along the Gulf of Mexico for Trans-Pacific transpacific containerized imports and exports. “An event like today reminds shippers that it is riskier to ship through West Coast even though it takes longer,” O’Connell said. “This will affect revenue and jobs locally. A retail trade group on Friday urged a quick resolution. “Our nations West Coast ports are a crucial link in the retail supply chain. Any interruption or disruption in their operations immediately has a ripple effect that impedes retailers ability to quickly and efficiently deliver for American consumers,” said Jessica Dankert, supply chain vice president for the Retail Industry Leaders Assn.