North American ports, the trucking industry and even other supply chain related occupations (see railroad workers) have been no stranger to labor unrest and strike talk over the past couple of years. As Labor Day 2023 approaches, there are still a number of issues percolating in these areas, while a few high-profile disputes between unions and management have been resolved at UPS, at Canadian ports, at West Coast ports and in a less satisfactory way with Yellow. Let's take a look at the trucking and ports labor situation and update how unrest could affect freight and logistics moving forward.
Mexico Truck Driver Strike Update
For now, a threatened strike by truck drivers in Mexico is not happening as the Mexican Alliance of Carrier Organizations (AMOTAC) - which represents the truckers have postponed demonstrations that were scheduled for this week. The three-month postponement comes after the Mexican government reportedly agreed to some concessions and further negotiations. At issue leading to the unrest are a number of demands, including:
Improved road safety
Lower operating costs
Banning double tractor-trailers
Simplified vehicle registration
Extortion protection from authorities
A particularly pressing concern according to the organization is cargo theft, which is up 10% over last year. Alliance spokesman Valentin Romero Trujillo told El Financiero that drivers suffer from assaults, robberies and murders along the roadways with no National Guard intervention. One reason for the strike delay is an agreement for the National Guard to meet monthly with the driver group to work on enhanced safety efforts.
The planned demonstrations would've blocked key arteries, and could've caused major delays for both domestic and international cargo in a country that's seen a major uptick in freight volume this year. AMOTAC claims to represent approximately 300,000 truckers across three-quarters of Mexico's cargo, tourism and bus fleets. Another group, CANACAR, represents a significant portion of truckers in the country as well, and has not indicated strike plans.
Alabama Port Labor Dispute
The Mobile Container Terminal along Alabama's Gulf Coast was the site of a dispute between the local chapter of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) and the port's operator APM Terminals this week. APM Monday filed a complaint in circuit court, claiming that ILA Local 1410 workers had engaged in a work stoppage at the port's railyard. A judge issued a temporary restraining order in response, preventing the workers from striking - as work stoppages are not allowed under the current collective bargaining agreement.
The twist here, is that the union denies engaging in any type of strike. ILA Local 1410 President Mark Bass told AL.com that workers were simply attempting to raise a safety issue to management, which threatened retaliation and told the workers to leave. Bass says the workers went to work the next day and were told to leave again - essentially suspended. A spokesman for Maersk - APM's parent company - told the same outlet that unauthorized labor actions disrupted operations at the facility, and that management is working with ILA to ensure normal operations resume quickly. Could this localized dispute portend something larger?
East Coast Ports Labor Update
With negotiations going 11 months past the end of West Coast dockworkers previous contract despite talks getting an early start, one can be forgiven for wondering how discussions regarding the next East Coast (and Gulf Coast) ports labor agreement will play out. The current contract between the ILA (which represents workers at all these ports) and the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX - which represents carriers and terminal operators) expires in exactly 13 months.
And the two sides did begin talking late last year - with additional talks happening at the local level - in hopes that the early start would head off a similar situation to their West Coast counterparts. However, ILA President Harold Daggett had members break off those discussions in March, after just two of the 14 covered ports reached tentative local agreements. A letter to members that month said the Alliance had been unwilling to meet the union's demands. And after Daggett's re-election as president in July, he repeatedly stressed the need to tackle the challenge of automation head-on.
Approximately 45,000 longshore workers are covered by the master contract between ILA and USMX, and as noted in the Mobile example above - there is a no-strike provision. That means a different type of scenario would play out if the two sides can't agree by next September's agreement expiration. But it would be a scenario worrisome to shippers who could push more volume back to the West Coast after those ports saw less activity due to their own labor issues - making for a somewhat vicious circle.
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