US West Coast ports experience labour disruption

Despite the reassurances from the management over the past few months, the US West Coast port labour negotiations seem to be going badly. Reports from Los Angeles and other West Coast ports suggest that informal labour protests are breaking-out in a number of container terminals, with some being forced to close.

The action seems to have started last week with various branches of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union embarking on ‘Stop Work Meetings’. The continued action has reportedly resulted in the Port of Oakland suspending operations on Monday 5th June as well as temporarily closing the TTI container terminal at Long Beach.

Some reports suggest that the Longshoreman’s union are avoiding a full declaration of a strike, rather they have embarked on a low-level campaign designed to make port operations difficult. Such action is affecting truck pick-up operations in particular.

The issue driving this is of course, pay. Negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal owners, and the Longshoreman’s union have been continuing since July of last year when the previous agreement expired. However, complicating the process of bargaining is that pay is not the only issue. There are longer-term questions around the efficiency of port labour across the West Coast and the unions are keen to preserve their members working patterns.

Although both sides were initially keen to give the impression that the negotiations were progressing smoothly, those with contact with the port had the contrary impression. For many months shippers have been moving traffic from West Coast ports to other terminals, particularly on the US East Coast where it is viable. This was strongly rumoured to be due to nervousness over the vulnerability of the West Coast ports to disruption. These re-routing policies seem to have had an impact on container volumes through the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach in particular over the past couple of quarters.

The threat of a total strike on the US West Coast seems less likely, not least due to the political pressure that would be brought to bear on the trade unions, with appeals to the American president already being made. What is possibly more likely is a campaign of lower-level disruption reducing the efficiency of operations in terminals but just short of a complete stoppage.

Source: Ti Insights

Author: Thomas Cullen

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