Labor skirmishes at US West Coast ports increase; contract still elusive

(Reuters) – Employers at West Coast seaports stepped up pressure on Monday on unions representing 22,000 workers who are trying to win a bigger share of the record profits reaped when cargo shipments surged during the pandemic.

West Coast ports stretching from California to Washington State are vital to US supply chains and the nation’s economy. The workers at these commercial gateways have been without a contract since July and the talks – now in their final stretch – have entered their 13th month.

The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), representing shipping-related terminal operators who have benefited from a major financial windfall from COVID-19, said on Sunday that port operations in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Seattle had been disrupted. due to labor shortages.

Weekend operations at many U.S. seaports are limited, seaport operators said. Still, many confirmed that labor shortages slowed or stopped work during the talks. For example, ships have been delayed at dock at US Container Gate #1 in Los Angeles/Long Beach, due to a lack of “whippers” who secure and unlock containers on board ships.

Industrial actions and complaints about their impact are not uncommon in the later stages of negotiations, as each side seeks leverage. Weary customers are pressuring US President Joe Biden to intervene in the stalemate as peak shipping season approaches and drought threatening the Panama Canal makes it harder and more expensive to get goods back to ports East Coast rivals.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) declined to comment on Monday.

On Saturday, the union’s international president, Willie Adams, said “ports on the west coast are open as we continue to work under our expired collective bargaining agreement.” He reiterated the union’s intention to reach an agreement.

A week ago, Adams said the union would not settle for a package that did not compensate members for risking their health while employers benefited financially.

American freight railroaders – who have also been critical during the pandemic – recently won a contract that included a 24% raise over five years. US lawmakers and President Biden stepped in to finalize this deal.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Kannaki Deka in Bangalore; Editing by Maju Samuel)

Leave a Comment