Cargo movement through the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles—as well as other West Coast ports—slowed Friday as some rank-and-file longshore workers staged a wildcat strike, causing labor shortages at some container terminals.
“Longshore workers continue to fight for respect and to be treated with dignity by predominantly foreign-owned ocean carriers and terminal operators who reap hundreds of billions of dollars in profit on the backs of those workers,” International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13 said in a statement.
Contract negotiations between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators and shippers, began in May of last year, with the old contract expiring months later, in July.
Nearly a year after talks began, on April 20, the organizations announced a tentative agreement on “certain key issues,” but negotiations are ongoing.
A Port of LA spokesperson confirmed with the Business Journal that there “are indeed labor shortages in the port complex” Friday. They did not, however, have information regarding which terminals were involved and to what degree they are being affected.
The port declined to comment on the situation Friday, but during a May 18 press conference, Executive Director Gene Seroka said he thought the union and the PMA were “on the doorstop of a tentative agreement.”
“Both sides are spending a lot of time at the negotiation table, and I’m optimistic we’ll hear good news soon,” Seroka said.
Port of Long Beach officials confirmed Friday that all terminals remain open but did not comment on labor levels.
“As we continue to monitor terminal activity, we urge the PMA and ILWU to continue negotiating in good faith toward a fair agreement,” Executive Director Mario Cordero said in an emailed statement. “The national economy relies on an outcome that keeps goods moving through the San Pedro Bay ports, the most important gateway for trans-Pacific trade.”
The PMA claimed in a statement that the ILWU’s action “effectively shut down operations at some marine terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.”
“The union is also staging similar work actions that have shut down or severely impacted terminal operations at the Ports of Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, and Hueneme,” the statement added.
The ILWU, for its part, noted that the PMA’s membership, including ocean carriers and terminal operators, made around $500 billion in net profits over the past two years amid record cargo movement at the San Pedro Bay ports complex.
“This essential workforce toiled around the clock to ensure delivery of the nationwide’s goods through a global pandemic,” Local 13 stated, adding that 43 ILWU members died due to COVID-19.
Despite the high profits, “ocean carriers and terminal operators have thumbed their noses at the workforce’s basic requests, insinuating that the health risks and the loss of lives these working people endured during the pandemic did not matter to them and they were expendable in the name of profits,” Local 13’s statement reads. “The workforce’s requests are not outlandish; they are basic requests that will ensure that the workforce is treated with the dignity and respect that they have fought so hard to earn.”
While work has slowed, the union stated that cargo operations continue. Local 13 President Gary Herrera, however, did not respond when asked at what capacity the ports are currently operating or what percentage of work orders were being filled.
The union did not indicate how long the labor shortage would persist.
Friday’s work action does not appear to be as severe as the labor shortage in April, which saw 11 of the 13 container terminals between LA and Long Beach closed for a day. At the time, union leaders stated the shortage was due to a swearing-in ceremony for Herrera and the observance of Good Friday—two events that have not essentially shut down the nation’s busiest port complex in the past.
Employers have previously accused union members of weaponizing their lunch breaks to slow terminal operations and delaying standard dispatch process.
The contentious negotiations and subsequent work actions have resulted in shippers (i.e. members of the PMA) diverting cargo to East and Gulf coast ports. In fact, the Port of New York and New Jersey continues to lead Long Beach in terms of cargo volume, a trend that began for the first time last year.