Major shipper and industry associations wrote to President Biden last month urging him to intervene in the slow pace of contract talks between West Coast port terminal operators and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Biden late last year was successful in getting the union to agree to extended port hours.
In the letter, the associations ask the administration to compel the parties to address important issues “to ensure our supply chains are fully prepared to support continued economic growth and mitigate potential disruptions.”
The shippers reminded the administration about what happened in port traffic in 2014, the last time that contract talks stalled and the union imposed a work slowdown to express members’ displeasure.
At that time, the longshoremen were so successful in slowing down container throughput at those ports that they caused a supply chain crisis similar to the current one. Containerships backed up outside parts waiting to be unloaded, the crisis ending only after President Obama ordered the talks restarted.
West Coast ports handle more than 44% of the nation’s import and export traffic. The current longshoremen’s union multi-year contract is scheduled to expire on July 1.
“The outcome of these negotiations could effectively determine the future of U.S. supply chain competitiveness,” the shipper groups told the President in their March letter. One problem the talks need to resolve is the union’s continuing resistance to port automation.
To avert an ongoing cycle of congestion and ensure U.S ports are positioned to compete globally, some essential steps are needed, the shippers said. They include targeted investment and support for infrastructure modernization and automation with workers skilled and prepared for these advanced jobs.