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ILWU & PMA: No West Coast Port Strike but Shutdowns Raise Fears

June 5, 2023 Kevin Baxter

Port of Oakland

A labor standoff between the ILWU and PMA continues to impact operations at West Coast ports, with some worrying that a strike could be coming. For the second time in a few months - operations at the major ports of Oakland, Long Beach and Los Angeles have been impacted by a lack of workers. The ILWU - International Longshore Workers Union (representing dockworkers) and PMA - Pacific Maritime Association (representing management of the ports), have continued negotiations on a new contract for more than a year.

Reports indicate that the latest shutdowns at these major ports are a result of both regular longshoremen and members who fill in the schedule to complete the workforce known as "dailies" not appearing for shifts - though the more senior steady longshoremen did report to some ports. Aside from this weekend and a period around Easter, work has generally gone on uninterrupted even as laborers have been operating without a contract since last July 1. And while signs of progress had emerged as recently as last month, the latest shutdowns have shown there is still work to be done. 

What the ILWU Is Saying

While not addressing the latest shutdowns and reported lack of worker availability that's led to them, the ILWU as a whole did offer an update on the status of the negotiations. In a Friday statement, International President Willie Adams said "Any reports that negotiations have broken down are false." And the union says talks on the collective bargaining agreement continue with a commitment to come to terms on a new contract. The ILWU Local 13 did address the lack of labor over the past few days, saying "the rank-and-file membership of the Southern California ILWU has taken it upon themselves to voice their displeasure with the ocean carriers' and terminal operator's position."

The ILWU offers a commitment not only to agree on a deal, but one that is "fair and equitable," including wages and benefits that reflect the importance of its more than 22,000 workers to the shipping industry. The union points out the dedication of its membership throughout the pandemic and lengthy peak-volume period and wants workers' compensation to align with revenue gains and profits made by the companies the PMA represents.

What the PMA Is Saying

The PMA addressed the port shutdowns directly. A Friday PMA statement says the ILWU is staging "concerted and disruptive work actions" that have effectively shut down or severely impacted operations at the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle and Hueneme. The PMA has not released any updated statement regarding the state of negotiations, though some shipping industry officials told the Wall Street Journal that negotiations soured over wage disagreements.

While the Los Angeles-Long Beach ports traditionally represent the country's largest international shipping gateways, the labor unrest combined with other issues unique to California have led many shippers to shift cargo to the East Coast. The negotiations between the PMA and ILWU cover 29 West Coast ports in all.

As labor issues persist on the West Coast, do you need help with any pivots to your shipping strategy? If so, we can assist. Fill in our quote request form and we'll discuss solutions that will work for you today, and when things clear up. For more information about InTek, or logistics and supply chain issues in general, check out our Freight Guides.

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