Two container terminals at the Port of Long Beach closed Monday, according to port officials, following an intentional slowdown by workers last week as negotiations over a new labor contract drag on. The cause of Monday’s closures remains unclear.
Total Terminals International on Pier T, the largest container terminal in Long Beach, and the Pacific Container Terminal on Pier J are not moving containers, port spokesperson Lee Peterson confirmed to the Business Journal.
When asked if the closure was a continuation of recent work actions by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Peterson said, “decisions to close were made based on operational needs.”
The Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement that the terminals would reopen for Monday’s evening shift.
TTI sent out a notice Sunday that all gate appointments at the terminal for Monday were canceled, according to an email obtained by the Business Journal. The operator did not give a reason for the cancellations.
Neither terminal operator responded to requests for comment.
Pacific Container Terminal, owned by Carrix Inc’s SSA Marine, was closed on Monday for normal operational reasons having nothing to do with labor, terminal general manager Randy Galosic told Reuters.
Monday’s closures come two days after the ports of LA and Long Beach saw slowdowns due to work actions by the ILWU. On Friday, rank-and-file longshore workers staged a wildcat strike that created labor shortages at container terminals, slowing down cargo movement.
Friday’s action was the latest in a series that have taken place up and down California as the union negotiates a new contract for workers with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators and shippers.
“Over the weekend and continuing today, the ILWU has continued to stage concerted and disruptive work actions that have slowed operations at key marine terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and elsewhere on the West Coast, including the Ports of Oakland and Seattle,” PMA said in a statement. “Union leaders are implementing many familiar disruption tactics from their job action playbook, including refusing to dispatch workers to marine terminals, slowing operations, and making unfounded health and safety claims.
“The ILWU’s coast-wide work actions since June 2 are forcing retailers, manufacturers and other shippers to shift cargo away from the West Coast in favor of ports on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts,” the statement continued. “Much of the diverted cargo may never return to the West Coast.”
The ILWU did not respond to a request for comment.
Marinetraffic.com, which tracks all seagoing vessels in real time, shows container ships at both terminals as of Monday.
All Port of Los Angeles terminals are open, according to spokesperson Phillip Sanfield, and no labor shortages were reported over the weekend.
Regardless of the reason for Monday’s closures, Matt Schrap, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, said they could have a significant impact on cargo movement.
“Any closure in one terminal has the potential to impact operations across the entire trucking network,” Schrap said in an email to the Business Journal. “We secure appointments in the San Pedro complex days ahead of time, so when the appointments get canceled or a gate closes for whatever reason, the industry must react and redeploy capacity to meet our own and our customers’ operational needs.”
On Monday morning, PCT also announced a dayside closure for Tuesday, Schrap said.
“If we can’t retrieve a container since a gate is shut down, it is not like that container moves to the next appointment slot in our queue, we need to move things around and attempt to secure another appointment or make other arrangements with the terminal to retrieve that container,” Schrap said. “So effectively we are now playing catch up.
“The system is completely interdependent, one breakdown or closure on one day reverberates for days after,” Schrap continued. “The longer the disruption takes place, the longer it takes to dig out.”
In the wake of recent work actions, the National Retail Federation on Monday called on the Biden administration to intervene in the languishing labor negotiations.
“The United States ports, particularly those on the West Coast, play a critical role in the vitality of the American economy,” David French, the NRF’s senior vice president of government relations, said in a statement. “Thousands of retailers and other businesses depend on smooth and efficient operations at the ports to deliver goods to consumers every day.”
Last year, the Biden administration stepped into the middle of contract negotiations for rail workers. Ultimately, Congress passed legislation to avert the strike, which would have cost the U.S. billions. The contract, however, did not include sick days for workers, which was a key demand.
The contentious dockworker contract negotiations began in May of last year, with the old contract expiring months later on July 1. The two parties agreed for work to continue under the previous contract conditions until a new agreement could be reached. The groups also agreed to a media blackout, which has made details on negotiations scarce.
Since mid-March, the PMA has accused union workers of several work actions that have caused delays at West Coast ports, including weaponizing lunch breaks, delaying worker dispatch and “red tagging” equipment to slow operations. The union, for its part, has denied these allegations.
In early April, 11 of the 13 container terminals in the San Pedro Bay port complex closed for a full day due to a lack of workers. At the time, ILWU Local 13 President Gary Herrera stated the shortage was due to a union meeting for his swearing in and the observance of Good Friday—two events that don’t typically shut down port operations.
On April 20, nearly a year after talks began, the organizations announced a tentative agreement on “certain key issues,” but noted a full agreement had not been reached.
Last month, Port of LA Executive Director Gene Seroka said he thought an agreement would be coming soon.
“Both sides are spending a lot of time at the negotiation table, and I’m optimistic we’ll hear good news soon,” Seroka said during a May 18 press conference.
After a weekend of work actions by the union, however, it appears workers are restless and looking to speed up the process.
“As we enter the peak shipping season for the holidays, these additional disruptions will force retailers and other important shipping partners to continue to shift cargo away from the West Coast ports until a new labor contract is established,” French, with the NRF, said. “It is imperative that the parties return to the negotiating table. We urge the administration to mediate to ensure the parties quickly finalize a new contract without additional disruptions.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more information from the Port of Long Beach and from the Pacific Maritime Association.