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West Coast ports on edge as U.S. Labor Secretary tries to broker union contract

Transportation trucks cross the Vincent Thomas Bridge over the main channel as shipping containers are seen stacked on the Evergreen terminal at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif., Nov. 30, 2021. A contract between shipping companies and 22,000 West Coast dockworkers expired on Friday, July 1, 2022, but both sides continue to talk and said they want to avoid a strike.

Posted on June 14, 2023

As contract talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Assn. drag into a 13th month at West Coast ports, raising the specter of a costly strike, the Port of Los Angeles says business remains consistent.

“The port of LA terminals are open, trucks are moving and vessels by and large have been on schedule,” Port of LA Executive Director Gene Seroka said Tuesday during his monthly update on port activity.

Earlier this month, contract talks between the labor union representing dock workers and the organization representing ocean carriers and terminal operators at the West Coast’s 29 ports stalled because of a dispute over wages and benefits. While that negotiating impasse led to spot shortages of dock workers and sporadic delays at the Port of LA for the first week of June, Seroka said, “for the last six days, the Port of Los Angeles has had minimal disruption.”

The number of container ships at berth and en route to the LA port have remained consistent from April 12 through June 12, he said, as has the amount of time shipping containers wait to be loaded for their next move.

Still, Seroka said port activity was down 27% for the first five months of 2023 compared with last year — or 15% below the five-year average. A contract agreement with terminal workers, he said, will be the first step in bringing cargo back to Los Angeles.

With the port running at 70%, Seroka said 15% of its latent capacity is cargo that’s moved to the East and Gulf Coast ports as importers, exporters and business associations hedge their bets about service disruptions along the Pacific.

Talks between the ILWU and PMA remain tense. Over the weekend, the PMA claimed union workers were intentionally slowing down the West Coast ports. Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su flew to San Francisco Monday to meet with both sides in the contract talks to help broker a deal.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that a serious work stoppage at the port of Los Angeles and its sister port in Long Beach could cost the U.S. economy close to $500 million daily. If a strike extended to other parts of the West Coast, the Chamber estimated a strike could cost twice as much.


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