Slowdowns attributed to job actions by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13 have shaken up key West Coast ports as contract negotiations drag on, prompting a response by the National Retail Federation.
David French, NRF senior vp of government relations, stated:
Retailers throughout the country depend on U.S. ports to support their daily business needs. The West Coast ports, especially those in Los Angeles and Long Beach, are a pivotal entry point to the United States that allow American consumers access to global products and essential goods.
NRF is closely monitoring the situation in California and has reiterated its concerns to the White House. It is essential that the ongoing labor negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) are resolved immediately. We again call on the administration to engage and prevent any further disruption to port operations and cargo fluidity.
In March, NRF and a group of 238 state, local and federal trade associations issued a letter to President Joe Biden calling on the administration to provide support to help the negotiating parties quickly reach a new agreement. The letter pointed out that the West Coast port labor negotiations between the ILWU and the PMA, representing the ports, have continued over eight months since the past contract expiration and that little to no progress towards a new long-term agreement had been made. The letter asserted that it is “imperative” that the Biden administration works with the parties to quickly reach a new agreement and ensure no disruption occurs to port operations and cargo fluidity.
For its part, PMA issued a statement saying:
The largest ILWU local on the West Coast has taken a concerted action to withhold labor at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, resulting in widespread worker shortages. A majority of the jobs for last night’s shift went unfilled, including all jobs for cargo-handling equipment operators needed to load and unload cargo. The workers who did show up were released because there was not a full complement of ILWU members to operate the terminals.
ILWU Local 13 withheld labor again for this morning’s shift. The action by the Union has effectively shut down the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest gateway for maritime trade in the United States.
The Union’s coordinated actions are occurring while negotiations for a new coastwise contract continue. This latest work action comes three weeks after ILWU Local 13 in Southern California stopped complying with a contract provision providing employers the right to assign staggered shifts during meal periods.
These actions undermine confidence in West Coast ports, and threaten to further accelerate the diversion of discretionary cargo to Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports. The health of the Southern California and state economy depend on the ability of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to stem this market share erosion.
The ILWU issued its own statement insisting that the workers who did not report to work were celebrating holidays including Good Friday with their families. The dispute over staggered lunch hours is based on a decision by unionized workers to take meal breaks at the same time, preventing port operations while they did so and refusing to stagger lunch hours to keep freight moving in the period.