White House Encourages Labor Negotiations as Delays Begin for Ships

Labor shortage
Reports indicate that ships are beginning to be delayed by the labor shortages at West Coast ports ( file photo)

Published Jun 7, 2023 5:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

The White House on Wednesday confirmed that it is monitoring the situation at the West Coast ports as sporadic reports of vessel delays are beginning to appear attributed to labor shortages. While the ports report they are open, individual terminals continue to be short staff as daily employees are still not to showing up for shifts.

During the daily briefing at the White House on June 7, the spokesperson was asked about President Biden’s position and if they planned to honor the requests coming for retailers and manufacturers for the White House to intervene and guide the process to a resolution. Both the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers issued statements on Monday calling for action saying the labor issues were likely to disrupt the supply chain and threatened the U.S. economy.

“Acting Secretary Su (Department of Labor) and others in the administration are regularly engaging with the parties, encouraging them to stay at the negotiating table and finish their work,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. “When it comes to the West Coast ports, I can say that the President respects the collective bargaining process as the best way for workers and employers to reach mutually beneficial solutions, which he — we have said before.”

She said the White House is calling both parties to come to the table to resolve the issues. “The path forward is for the port workers and their employers to resolve the negotiations so that workers get the wages, benefits, and quality of life that they so deserve.”

Most terminals are officially open, although handling of containers appears to be moving at a slower than normal pace. The Port of Oakland, California however had a tragic accident on Tuesday afternoon in which reports said a crane operator was killed. A port spokesman confirmed the incident to the local media. The port suspended all operations, sending everyone home Tuesday afternoon while the incident was being investigated.

The Marine Exchange of California which oversees vessel movements into and out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach released a list on Wednesday afternoon showing that six vessels in port were now reporting delays. In addition, four vessels due to arrive were also shown as reporting delays.

“Basically every container vessel is having their schedule pushed back by about a day or two,” they wrote in the update. While some agencies were not reporting reasons for the changes in their schedules, the Marine Exchange said it was hearing that the main cause is due to lack of “lashers.” Their report shows that there are currently 67 vessels registered on the Master Queuing List as heading toward the twin ports for berths.

One data analytics firm, Gatehouse Satcom, is reporting that it believes the number of berthing vessels outside the LA ports had already tripled. The Marine Exchange is reminding shippers that if a ship is delayed more than three days, unless already inside the safety and air quality area, it should remain outside until it is within three days of its scheduled berthing date/time.

CNBC is also reporting as of late today that the slowdown by the longshore workers has started to create congestion in the ports that is spreading to the freight railroads. Union Pacific briefly paused on Tuesday accepting empties and exports bound for the ports writes CNBC, although the railroad resumed on Wednesday while reporting it is monitoring the situation carefully. The concern is that backlogs will also begin to build inland.

For its part, the ILWU Tweeted messages of solidarity that it is receiving from sister unions. Unconfirmed media reports are saying that the contract talks are ongoing with the Pacific Maritime Association and the ILWU continuing their blackout on comments after their public statements in the past few days.