Port labor talks bog down as worker disruptions increase

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West Coast port labor talks have stalled as disputes with dockworkers hit major trading doors in the region, according to shipping industry officials who fear talks could go wrong. take months to resolve.

Some maritime leaders had hoped the talks, which began in mid-May, would conclude by early fall. Now they fear negotiations could continue until the end of 2022 or into 2023, prolonging the uncertainty that has triggered shifts in trade flows and complicated supply chain planning.

“What you’re starting to hear is that people are losing confidence,” said a shipping industry official.

The talks involve more than 22,000 workers at 29 ports from California to Washington state, which include major hubs for trade with Asia. Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have been working without contracts since the last agreement expired in July, leaving companies to work without a grievance mechanism to resolve disputes between workers and their bosses.

Labor incidents have generally not delayed the movement of goods, but officials say they fear clashes over labor disputes could escalate.

Unionized Seattle dockworkers called meetings last week to prepare for a possible picket. Workers at the port of Tacoma, Wash., did not provide a night shift in August at a cargo-handling facility due to a disagreement over CPR training.

Dockworkers at the Port of Los Angeles would not work for about four weeks in an automated section of the largest container handling facility run by APM Terminals, a unit of AP Moeller-Maersk A/S. Workers cited safety concerns over the site’s automated equipment, which has been in operation since 2020.

Los Angeles dockers returned to the automated section of the terminal on Sunday.

In August, 40,000 containers were diverted from the Port of Los Angeles to the nearby Port of Long Beach due to a labor dispute.


Photo:

Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS

Port of Los Angeles executive director Gene Seroka said that in August 40,000 containers, measured in 20-foot equivalent units, were diverted to the nearby Port of Long Beach due to the dispute.

Many importers are transferring goods from West Coast gateways on longer and more expensive routes to East Coast and Gulf Coast ports so that their cargo does not get stuck in the event of a lockdown or disaster. ‘Social Action. The increase in freight has resulted in congested terminals and ship backups in many of these ports.

Concerns over the progress of the talks come as labor disputes in the United States mount. The Biden administration intervened last week to narrowly avoid a nationwide shutdown of the freight rail system. Shipping industry officials say they also want the government to get more involved in port labor negotiations.

Administration officials say they are following the talks closely and that negotiations are progressing at a good pace.

Dock workers’ union leaders and their employers negotiate the first new multi-year contract since 2015.

The two sides reached a tentative health and benefits agreement in late July. They have made no progress on tougher issues, such as wages and automation, shipping industry officials say, as talks have been stalled by a dispute over which workers covered by two separate unions repair and maintain the equipment of a freight handling company. Port of Seattle terminal.

The National Labor Relations Board awarded this work to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Shipping industry officials said proposals to end the dispute had been exchanged with the ILWU for several weeks “with little progress”.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who holds weekly calls with officials from the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, the bargaining group for the shipping lines and terminal operators who employ the workers, said the disruptions to work are “bumps in the road”.

“Unfortunately, the only time something gets reported is when it’s on the union side,” Walsh said. “I’m sure there are bumps on the business side.”

The ILWU and the PMA have agreed not to discuss the talks publicly.

An ILWU spokeswoman said negotiations are taking time and the union ‘remains committed to the process, with the goal of reaching a collective bargaining agreement with our employers that supports dockworker jobs and the American economy. “.

Every day, millions of seafarers, truckers, stevedores, warehouse workers and delivery drivers haul mountains of goods to stores and homes to meet growing consumer expectations for convenience. But this complex movement of goods that underpins the global economy is far more vulnerable than many imagined. Photo illustration: Adele Morgan

Write to Paul Berger at [email protected]

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