West Coast Port Labor Talks Continue – Risk of Possible Port Closure Raised

Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) chief executive John McKenna yesterday made a contract offer to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) that he hopes can help avert a “coastwide meltdown”.

The PMA’s contract proposal includes a five-year contract, a 3-percent salary increase, a pension benefit increase by 11 per cent. The offer also accedes to union demands that the maintenance and repair work of the region’s chassis be restricted to ILWU members.

McKenna told reporters that if the ILWU refuses its terms then shipping companies and terminal operators will shut down operations and workers would be locked  out of West Coast ports within a week to ten days.  Although he maintained that  the companies had no direct intention of declaring a worker lockout – which  could trigger federal intervention – he said ports were becoming so gridlocked that operations could effectively be shut down in the next five to 10 days. “That will entail either us not calling for labor, because there is no point in having it, or labor going on strike,” he told reporters during a telephone conference call

In response, the ILWU issued a statement on Wednesday indicating that it feels the two sides are close to an agreement and the threat of a shut down is unnecessary. The ILWU pledged to keep the ports open and keep cargo flowing.  Union president Robert McEllrath said the parties were very close to a final accord and the union had dropped most of its remaining issues to help reach a settlement, leaving just a few that “can be easily resolved.”

A federal mediator has been part of contract talks, which  have recently  coincided with protracted cargo backups hampering freight traffic through waterfronts handling nearly half of U.S. maritime trade and more than 70 percent of imports from Asia.  The congestion has been most pronounced at Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s two busiest shipping hubs. Over the past two days, port authorities there reported more than 20 freighters  at anchor, waiting for berths to open up. L.A. port spokesman Phillip Sanfield called the levels of congestion unprecedented, and said it would take weeks to clear the cargo backlog once operations returned to normal

RCL Agencies will continue to monitor the situation and report further updates once available.