No Strike or Lockout Planned as West Coast Labor Contract Nears End

West Coast longshore labor negotiations
Negotiators denied that any labor actions are imminent as talks will continue past contract expiration (file photo)

Published Jun 14, 2022 8:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

With just over two weeks remaining before the longshore union contract for the U.S. West Coast ports expires, both sides felt compelled to break their self-imposed silence to refute media reports that the ports were preparing for a possible strike or lockout. Without offering any specific details, the International Longshore Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association both emphasized that the discussions are continuing and that no actions were imminent.

In a rare joint statement on the progress of the talks, the union with 22,000 members and the association representing 70 employers at 30 West Coast ports, admitted that “they are unlikely to reach a deal before the July 1 expiration of the current agreement.” They said that this was not unexpected and noted that the talks will continue. Observers noted that the 2014 contract negotiations extended into 2015 before an agreement was reached.

“This timing is typical, and cargo operations continue beyond the expiration of the contract,” said the ILWU and PMA in their joint statement. “Neither party is preparing for a strike or a lockout, contrary to speculation in news reports. The parties remain focused on and committed to reaching an agreement.”

Recent speculation in the media cited a potential impasse with most reports saying the two sides remaining far apart on the most contentious issues of port automation. One tabloid report said the labor negotiations have “hit a snag,” and without saying anything was imminent however highlighted that “every recent labor negotiation between the dock workers’ union and port operators have resulted in a work stoppage and delays.”

Shippers and trade associations are reportedly anxiously awaiting news on the talks while industry executives said they remain confident that both sides understand the importance of not further disrupting the supply chain. In his monthly update, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said he remains confident that an agreement will be reached without disruptions. “There are savvy negotiators on both sides of the table who understand what is at stake economically,” said Seroka. “They understand the task at hand.”

Several trade associations have recently called on President Biden to get involved in the negotiations. They noted that both sides had suspended the talks for 10 days in late May while asking the administration to ensure that the sides remained at the table until a deal was done. 

President Biden visited the Port of Los Angeles last Friday, and in today’s statement the union and employers confirmed that they had a private meeting with the president. They reported that the discussions focused on supply chain congestion and the impact on the economy. They reported that they told the president that both sides were committed to the collective bargaining process and were committed to reaching a fair agreement.