West Coast Port Negotiations Resume, Dockworkers Trigger Delays

By In Insight On 23rd March 2023

Matson vessel alongside dock

Over the past year, negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) regarding contracts have been difficult, causing delays and uncertainty in freight operations.

The disagreements between the PMA and ILWU center around various topics, such as jurisdiction and the use of automated handling equipment on the docks.

It's important to note that the ILWU labor force works all the West Coast ports of the United States and Canada.

Recently, the PMA announced that dockworkers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have ceased staggering work shifts during mealtimes, causing terminals to shut down for an hour in the afternoon and another hour at night during the lunch break. These interruptions have triggered significant delays in cargo operations and long backups of trucks at terminal gates.

While there have been some disruptions at the West Coast ports during the negotiations, the lunch break implementation at Los Angeles and Long Beach is the first instance where such action has impacted numerous cargo-handling operations. The PMA argued that the previous agreement allowed employers to assign staggered shifts during mealtimes. However, since the contract has expired, there are no means of arbitration to resolve the dispute and ensure that dockworkers continue with uninterrupted operations.

In previous negotiations, supply chain disruptions have occurred, such as the 11-day lockout of dockworkers by the PMA in 2002 until President Bush invoked the Taft-Hartley Act, which halted the right to collective bargaining and forced the start of port operations. In the 2014 negotiations, PMA similarly ended night and weekend work shifts.

One sticking point in negotiations could be terminal operators seeking to expand their use of automated technology, which union officials have opposed over job loss concerns and a negative economic impact to the local communities.

Shipping companies have also tried to limit the jurisdiction of the ILWU by reducing the categories of work performed by union workers. This disruption is reminiscent of contract issues in the past.

It is important to monitor this situation closely and be aware of potential Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) interventions at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

If there is a significant slowdown claim by the employers, OSHA will likely get involved and speed up negotiations if labor safety compliance is warranted.

These are not good signs on the negotiation front. There is a risk to cargo shipping with regular carriers.

As a logistics company, we must prepare for potential disruptions and consider alternative shipping options to mitigate any negative impacts on our business.

At NNR, we have solutions and contingency plans in place to reduce any significant disruptions. Don't hesitate to get in touch with your local rep for more details. We are happy to assist with a thorough review of your supply chain to help provide a solution ahead of potential disruptions. 

Camille Gonzalez

Sr. Global Account Manager 



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