Following a temporary shutdown, dozens of busy West Coast ports reopened this week as contract tensions between dock employees and management continued to escalate. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents dockworkers, and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represent port terminal operators, have been sparring over a 14-week slowdown that has affected cargo from cars to electronics to logoed apparel. Trade groups, lawmakers and federal mediators have all urged the two sides to reach an agreement, although negotiations appear to have only gotten more contentious in recent weeks.
We are “increasingly hearing from companies and industries whose business operations are being adversely affected by the serious slowdown surrounding the labor contract negotiations at the West Coast ports,” said Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “This is now a growing crisis that is impacting farmers, retailers, and manufacturers throughout the country, as well as trucking and railroad companies who have far less cargo to move.”
Officials from the ILWU and the PMA again traded barbs in the press this week. “Employers are deliberately worsening the existing congestion crisis to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table,” said ILWU president Robert McEllrath in a statement. Countered PMA spokesperson Wade Gates: “After three months of union slowdowns, it makes no sense to pay extra for less work.”
While few hard numbers have been made public, the PMA said last week it was making a five-year contract offer that would increase dockworker pay by 3% annually, provide full health care benefits as well as substantial retirement allotments. Since that announcement, no resolution has been reached, although talks are ongoing and outside pressures are becoming more prominent.
“Time is absolutely of the essence because significant economic damage has already been done to those people and businesses that rely on the efficient functioning of our ports,” U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, wrote in a letter to ILWU and PMA leaders this week. “Ships have been diverted from California ports in search of more efficient offloading sites. Long term damage to the competitiveness of California ports may have already occurred. These are terrible circumstances.”
Groups like the National Retail Federation have estimated that a true shutdown of ports in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle would cost the U.S. economy nearly $2 billion per day.