Escalating Tensions at West Coast Port Negotiations

As negotiators for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) seek agreement on a new long-term contract, accusations of bad-faith tactics have been made by both sides. On December 31, the PMA, which represents the firms that operate West Coast Ports, sent notice to the ILWU that the number of nighttime work positions would be cut by two-thirds as of January 2. The PMA states that this reduction is necessary to avoid the increased gridlock that would come at port facilities with additional unloading of ships at night. On January 2, the PMA accused the ILWU of withholding qualified yard crane drivers from their shifts at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The Union has countered that cargo bottlenecks at the ports have been largely caused by a shortage of tractor-trailer chassis, which occurred after shippers represented by the PMA outsourced chassis supply at a time when super-sized container vessels are overwhelming the ability of the ports to process cargo. The ports with the most significant cargo bottlenecks are Los Angeles and Long Beach, Oakland, and Seattle-Tacoma. As a result of the backlog, cargo which normally takes two or three days to clear the ports now faces lag times of up to two weeks.

Despite the slowdown of cargo processing and increasing hostility, the ILWU and PMA have agreed to keep ports open during negotiations. Twelve years ago, a shutdown at West Coast ports due to an expired contract lasted ten days and had an estimated economic impact of $1 billion per day. While the ILWU has encouraged the PMA to bring “direct participation” of shipping executives into the negotiation, the PMA has opted to request federal arbitration of the dispute. The Obama Administration has not yet issued a formal response to the PMA’s request. 

TIA’s Government Relations staff will continue to monitor the status of negotiations between the ILWU and PMA. Please contact Will Sehestedt (, 703-299-5713) with any questions.