Tensions mount at US west coast box ports over labour talks

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Tensions continue to mount at US west coast container terminals as carrier groups last week accused workers of withholding labour – something that in the past has resulted in a surge in air cargo demand.

Carrier group Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) said that on April 7 unions took concerted action to withhold labour at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, resulting in “widespread worker shortages”.

“A majority of the jobs for last night’s [April 7] shift went unfilled, including all jobs for cargo-handling equipment operators needed to load and unload cargo,” the PMA said.

The group added that three weeks ago workers at southern Californian ports did not stagger shifts during meal periods.

Forwarder Expeditors added that operations were also affected on April 6.

“No significant backlogs or delays are expected from a single day’s action and the terminal is expected to return to normal operations after the holiday weekend,” the forwarder said.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) said that work at the ports continued on April 6 and 7 and said that union members who observe religious holidays took the opportunity to celebrate with their families.

On April 6, the union held its monthly meeting with several thousand members in attendance, the ILWU said.

The labour contract expired more than eight months ago and negotiations have been ongoing for over ten months.

The US National Retail Federation (NRF) said there has been “little to no progress” toward a new long-term agreement.

The NRF said that the negotiating parties had previously agreed not to engage in a strike or a lockout, but added that it was “aware of several instances of activities that have impacted terminal operations”.

NRF senior vice president of government relations David French said: “NRF is closely monitoring the situation in California and has reiterated its concerns to the White House. It is essential that the ongoing labor negotiations between the ILWU and the PMA are resolved immediately.

“We again call on the [President Biden] administration to engage and prevent any further disruption to port operations and cargo fluidity.”

The US Airforwarders Association said that shippers were already avoiding west coast ports because of the ambiguity caused by the negotiations.

In the past, industrial action at US ports has resulted in a surge in air cargo demand as shippers looked to catch up with delays to cargo.

AfA optimistic US air cargo industry can ride out a recession


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Damian Brett

Damian Brett
I have been writing about the freight and logistics industry since 2007 when I joined International Freighting Weekly to cover the shipping sector.After a stint in PR, I have gone on to work for Containerisation International and Lloyds List - where I was editor of container shipping - before joining Air Cargo News in 2015.Contact me on [email protected]