Longshoremen Contract Limbo

March 28, 2022

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Negotiations are starting already for the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union workers (ILWU) and their west coast employers the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) as costly delays need to be avoided by any means necessary this summer. With the current labor agreement expiring on June 30th, almost everyone involved in the supply chain will be watching carefully to determine if there’s a chance agreement will stall and send delays skyrocketing once again. With the union looking for enhanced benefits and better support during a time when the port and carriers are reporting record profits from the current market, they’ve already denied a request from the National Retail Federation for a one-year contract extension that came back in November.  


From Transportation Topics: “We know key issues for both parties need to be worked out during this contract negotiation and believe the parties should sit down now and not wait to begin negotiations,” NRF President Matthew Shay wrote. “We would further ask that you issue a statement committing to the commencement of meaningful negotiations now, and to commit to continue negotiating and working without interruption, even if negotiations extend beyond the June 30 contract expiration.”


What the NRF leaves out is that the outrageous business being done on the west coast is almost entirely thanks to the tireless efforts of the dockworkers who operate the terminals. A sticking point between the parties also develops regarding automation of the port and how it will improve throughput and make work more efficient and easier, but reduce the number of jobs available at the port. 


With two years of management praise for the diligent work done through the pandemic, including 1,700 cases of COVID-19 among longshoremen and two deaths, the renegotiation of the labor contract has all the appearance of an opportunity to put money where the gratitude currently is. 


The last renegotiation started creating delays in 2015 and got so bad the government almost stepped in to get work started as the supply chain ground to a halt. Granted, it was a halt that looks almost juvenile compared to the pandemic issues we’ve seen. And the ILWU has a rough slog ahead as they’re commonly ignored until the supply chain slows, at which point they’re blamed for the slowdown and that blame and shift in public opinion is used as leverage for the contract negotiations. 


This time, once again, dockworkers are in suspended animation between accolades and blame. Nobody can predict what will happen from the negotiations at this point, and if they try to, they’re selling something. These contracts are lengthy, all-encompassing, and responsible for identifying a scope that can quickly develop faster than technology can keep up. Because this negotiation is one of the key parts of the health of our logistics market, you can always count on STG to keep a close eye on the way it unfolds to bring you the best and most current news available. 


If you’re concerned the delays might impact your cargo this summer, now is the time to reach out to your STG representative and discuss the steps we can take to protect your timeline and plan contingencies if the delays start to increase.  

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