West Coast Port Operations Struggle With Backlogs as Negotiations Continue

Negotiators for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) announced major strides in their negotiations for a new long-term contract this week, despite continued issues with work slowdowns, night operations, and port congestion. On Monday, January 26, negotiators announced that a proposal would be subjected to the approval of the union’s rank-and-file members which would create jobs for members of the union maintaining and repairing the truck beds used to haul cargo between ports and warehouses. Truck chassis have been a major sticking point in negotiations, as the union has argued that making maintenance improvements will speed the flow of freight from dock side to warehouse.

The PMA has countered the union arguments on truck chassis shortages with accusations of work slowage by union members. As an example, ILWU workers at the Port of Portland’s container terminal did not report to work on Tuesday, January 27. The impact of a no-show day on the Oregon port will be felt in the slower overseas shipment of lumber and agricultural commodities. As a result of the overall slowing of cargo processing at West Coast ports, the National Pork Producers Council has announced to national media that pork exporters are trying to fill contracts in Asia by sending shipments by airplane.

On Monday, January 26, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command issued a customer/carrier advisory that delays at ports were causing significant delays at Defense Distribution in San Joaquin, CA. To ensure support to US Troops, the PMA leadership has agreed to prioritize specific APL US Flag vessels during nighttime operations at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Efforts are underway to reach a similar agreement at the Port of Oakland. Without such prioritization, vessels for APL and Maersk are delayed 12-15 days off schedule.

Despite the cargo congestion and increasing hostility, the negotiations will continue without a full shutdown of the West Coast ports, which handle over $1 trillion in cargo annually. Twelve years ago, a shutdown at the 29 PMA-managed ports due to an expired contract lasted ten days at an estimated economic impact of $1 billion per day.