Vessel Delays And Lack Of Progress In Labour Talks Lead To Rising Tensions At West Coast Ports

Strike disruptions across the major US West Coast ports have resulted in a significant surge in terms of container backlogs, per a well-known maritime analytics provider.

The week following 5 June experienced a rise in the average number of containers waiting outside the port limits at the Port of Oakland, going up to 35,153 from 25,266.

Per CNBC, a spokesperson associated with the maritime analytics provider revealed an even more dramatic rise from the Ports of Los Angeles (LA) and Long Beach (LB) in the week, wherein the average TEU that was waiting off port limits increased to 51,228 from 21,297.

West Coast Ports
Representation Image

The total value of the 86,381 container boxes stalled across the ports of the West Coast has touched nearly $5.2 billion, per CNBC.

In a recent letter delivered to the Biden Administration, the US Chamber of Commerce warned regarding the potential financial impacts of a crucial work stoppage at the ports of the West Coast, estimating a daily cost of $1 billion to the US economy.

The Chamber further implored the President to appoint an “independent mediator” to expedite negotiations and to facilitate an early resolution between the Pacific Maritime Association (abbreviated the PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (abbreviated the ILWU).

While the White House has quelled concerted attempts from shipping carriers and associations to intervene in negotiations, the Biden Administration has deployed Julie Su, its acting Labor Secretary, to supervise contractual developments.

To the dismay of shipping liners, the White House aims to respect the collective bargaining process. It has also refrained from imposing invasive levels of influence, being, at large, a non-partisan to disputes.

However, Julie Su’s deployment is an escalation in Government involvement, even though it must be noted that Su’s role is to encourage the ILWU and PMA to stay at the table and make an agreement, mentioned Julie McClain Downey, the Assistant Labor Secretary associated with Public Affairs.

In short, the government’s intention is not to, in any way, influence an agreement but rather to ensure that a deal is achieved.

Su was welcomed by the Retail Industry Leaders Association, who later mentioned that they urge Su to remain engaged until a resolution is finalized, mainly because it facilitates the uninterrupted flow of goods. It restores confidence in the ports of the West Coast as a trustworthy gateway for worldwide commerce.

Per logistics managers aware of the situation, the slowdown in work shifts and the absences can be attributed to dissatisfied skilled labourers, per CNBC.

CNBC has also shared that requests for additional work at particular port terminals made via official work orders aren’t being posted on the wall of the union hall for fulfilment.

Besides, the PMA is also denied access to this union hall, prohibiting them from checking if terminal orders are requested as intended.

Through a statement on the disruptions encountered between 2 June 2023 and 7 June 2023 at the Ports of LA and LB, the PMA reportedly accused the ILWU of denying dispatching lashers for when vessels depart and arrive.

The PMA further professed that oversights of this sort were part of a concerted and organized effort by the ILWU to unsettle port operations and withhold necessary labour from docks.

When the Port of Seattle became the latest to be afflicted with strikes more recently, the PMA credited actions of the ILWU for the supply chain problems and transhipment delays the West Coast has encountered.

Per the PMA, the ILWU has been staging disruptive work activities targeting the largest ports on the West Coast for several months.

The actions have either slowed operations or completely shut them down, impeding the entire supply chain and leaving vessels and US exports idle at docks.

References: CNBC, Port Technology, BIV

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