Longshore Workers “No Show” at West Coast Ports Closing Terminals

West Coast longshore no show
Port of Oakland, California reportedly closed due to a lack of workers while other terminals are running with reduced staffing

Published Jun 2, 2023 4:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) failed to show up for their shifts this morning at many of the terminals on the West Coast forcing operations in some places to be suspended while others are proceeding with reduced resources. Two months ago, members of the union’s local in California also failed to show up for assigned shifts as the contract negotiations for the approximately 22,000 longshore workers at 29 West Coast have dragged on for a year.

The Pacific Maritime Association Tweeted that “concerted and disruptive work actions” by the ILWU are underway at terminals ranging from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to Oakland, Hueneme, Tacoma, and Seattle. Union headquarters declined to comment on the reports citing the agreed blackout on media statements that has been in place since the beginning of the contract negotiations in May 2022.

The PMA which represents the employers is saying that the union’s actions that have effectively shut down operations at some marine terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Operations at some of the ports are reported to have been “severely impacted,” with for example the two largest terminals at the Port of Oakland reporting they had closed due to a lack of workers. Some truckers are telling the media that they have been turned away at the gates to the Southern California ports.

Late today, the ILWU headquarters issued a statement. “Any reports that negotiations have broken down are false,” stated International President Willie Adams, “We are getting there but it’s important to understand that West Coast dockworkers kept the economy going during the pandemic and lost their lives doing so. We aren’t going to settle for an economic package that doesn’t recognize the heroic efforts and personal sacrifices of the ILWU workforce that lifted the shipping industry to record profits.”   

Earlier, Local 13 which represents members at the Southern California ports issued a statement on behalf of its leadership regarding its perception of the situation at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. They criticized the “foreign-owned ocean carriers and terminal operators who reap hundreds of billions of dollars in profit on the backs of those workers.” The local says it is fighting for respect.

“The rank-and-file membership of the Southern California ILWU has taken it upon themselves to voice their displeasure with the ocean carriers’ and terminal operators’ position,” Local 13 writes in its statement. They said that “The workforce’s requests are not outlandish; they are basic requests that will ensure the workforce is treated with dignity and respect that they have fought so hard to earn.” They said however that “cargo operations in the ports continue as longshore workers remain on the job.”

There is no indication of how many shifts the workers might be skipping. In the action in April, they remained off work for approximately 24 hours, also skipping Friday shifts before the Easter holiday weekend.

Both sides have agreed not to publicly discuss the details of the negotiations but in late April reported that there had been a tentative agreement on key issues while the PMA warned that critical issues remained to be resolved. Media reports suggested that the remaining issues were wages and raises after agreements had been reached early on regarding medical benefits and it was believed that the terminal automation issues were resolved in April.

Today’s job action comes as the West Coast ports were struggling to regain market share and stabilize their losses. Cargo volumes have plummeted in some cases to pre-pandemic levels with reports that the declines were exacerbated by fears of disruptions as the union contract tracks dragged on. Port officials have said it is critical to have resolution on the contract to reverse the trend by shippers and carriers to divert volumes to the U.S. Gulf Coast and East Coast ports.