Closing Southern California ports highlights contract talks

Port workers in Southern California returned to work Friday night, ending a nearly 24-hour shutdown at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — a critical entry point for imports from Asia.

The temporary shutdown has exacerbated concerns about logistics infrastructure that has not been fully recalibrated since the COVID-19 pandemic was delayed and has cast a stark light nationally on the high-stakes work negotiations under way at the ports.

The union representing West Coast dockworkers and the industry group representing ocean freighters have spent several months negotiating a new contract, which focuses in part on wages and the role of automation. The old contract, covering more than 22,000 workers at 29 ports, expired on July 1.

The Pacific Maritime Assn. , the industry group representing shippers at the negotiating table, Friday night Listed most stations In the dual ports where it operates compared to previous transmission summaries which indicated that most stations were idle on Thursday night and most of Friday.

group of shippers he said in a statement early Friday The International Warehousing and Warehousing Federation Longshore has taken “coordinated action withholding labor”.

“The majority of last night’s shift positions were not filled, including all cargo-handling equipment operator positions needed to load and unload cargo,” the statement read. “The workers who showed up were released because there wasn’t a full group of ILWU members to operate the stations.”

But ILWU Local 13 he said in a statement On Friday afternoon, he said its members “are still working hard and remain committed to carrying the nation’s load.” The labor shortage occurred because several thousand members attended a monthly Thursday evening meeting and were observing the feast of Good Friday, as permitted by the contract.

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Although both sides have remained largely quiet about the status of contract negotiations – they appear to be sticking to the agreement set out in a Joint statement in February Not discussing the collective bargaining process in the media – recent development has emphasized its importance.

“It’s pretty clear that this is a wake-up call for port operators,” said Harley Chaiken, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley who specializes in labor issues. “Not only has this process been slow, but it has been slowly progressing with very high stakes in the balance.”

Because their members can block ports along the West Coast, Scheken said, the longshore union has unparalleled power.

“This has really caught the nation’s attention, and should add a sense of urgency to the negotiations,” he said.

LA and Long Beach Ports Together, they handle nearly 40% of US imports from Asia, which arrive in giant metal containers on ships that stretch nearly as long as the Empire State Building. But cargo traffic has fallen sharply in recent months, allowing the combined ports of New York and New Jersey to snatch No. 1 bragging rights intermittently. Los Angeles.

The domestic downward trend is worrisome not only for officials at the dual ports but also for the 175,000 Southern California workers — who work in the ports themselves as well as in related businesses — moving $469 billion worth of cargo annually, according to data from the ports. At stake are jobs along the supply chain, including truck drivers, warehouse workers and people employed by logistics professionals.

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“It is important that things get back to normal as soon as possible,” he said. jock o’connell, An economist in international trade, he pointed out that the local ports lost a large amount of business to their competitors on the eastern and Gulf coasts. US retailers and manufacturers have rerouted cargo after a massive backlog in San Pedro Bay that began in 2020, benefiting from major investment by competing ports looking to grab the shipping business away from Southern California.

“It’s possible some of this business will never come back,” said O’Connell, who works for Beacon Economics. He added that the current stop will create a ripple effect, affecting countless jobs and industries tangentially linked to the movement of goods through the region.

“The economic impact of this lockdown will be felt,” he said.

According to James Stearns, associate professor in the Department of Applied Economics at Oregon State University, there is a precedent for contentious labor disputes translating not only into temporarily rerouted businesses, but also into more permanent changes.

In 2016, for example, spiteful labor disputes at the Port of Portland eventually led to both of the port’s container terminal operators leaving the port for good.

In a statement Friday, Los Angeles Port officials said they are speaking with both Union and Pacific Maritime Assn. , as well as local, state, and federal officials, about returning to normal operations.

“Resuming cargo operations at America’s busiest port complexes is critical,” the statement reads, “to maintain confidence for our customers and supply chain stakeholders.”

The National Retail Federation also issued a statement on Friday saying the retail group had expressed concerns about the White House closure and urging administration officials to intervene to prevent further disruptions.

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In the past month, the union – along with dozens of other associations – I sent a message To President Biden, he requests his administration to provide mediation services to both negotiating parties and to do everything in their power to ensure that an agreement is reached as soon as possible.

The economic importance of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is great enough that former US presidents have interceded to move goods again.

In 2002, President Bush closed 29 West Coast ports for 11 days to stop employers closing West Coast longshoremen. In 2021, before holiday freight traffic was crushed, Biden helped broker a plan to expand hours at domestic ports, hoping to ease bottlenecks that have intensified amid pandemic jams.

O’Connell said the president is likely watching the current outage as well.

“A Democratic president doesn’t like these kinds of problems,” he said. “It’s a labor issue and President Biden is going to try to make sure this doesn’t get out of hand.”

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