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Port of Seattle Suspends Container Operations Due to ILWU Actions

Port of Seattle closed
PMA reports Port of Seattle is shut down due to actions by the ILWU (Seattle file photo)

Published Jun 10, 2023 6:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

Container operations at the Port of Seattle, Washington have been suspended since Friday, June 9, and did not resume on June 10, according to a statement from the Pacific Maritime Association. The organization which represents the terminal operators is citing “coordinated and disruptive work actions,” led by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union as part of the ongoing disruptions related to the union’s contract negotiations.

In an update released on Twitter, the PMA writes, “On the second and third shift yesterday (June 9), work slowdowns directed by ILWU officials brought ground operations at marine terminals to a halt, resulting in longshore workers being sent home. On the first shift today (June 10), the ILWU refused to dispatch any longshore workers to container terminals” in Seattle.

The PMA says as a result, the Port of Seattle is currently shut down, leaving American exports sitting idle at the docks. This came after an update issued on Friday when the PMA said that both the ports of Seattle and neighboring Tacoma, Washington “continue to suffer significant slowdowns as a result of targeted ILWU work actions.”

It is unclear how much traffic and container volume are being impacted at the Port of Seattle. AIS signals from containerships appear to show possibly six ships currently at anchor near the port. It appears that five container ships, including vessels from MSC, Maersk, and APL, are on dock including at the Harbor Island facility.

Seattle has been one of the issues reportedly impacting the broader West Coast labor contract. There is an inter-union dispute between the ILWU and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers over which union has the right to perform tasks related to shore power for the ships at Seattle’s T5 Terminal. The unions have been litigating the dispute with the National Labor Relations Board in April 2023 ruling against the ILWU. 

The PMA on Friday, June 9, provided an update reporting that “operations have generally improved at the port of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland.” Between June 2 and June 7, the ILWU they said had been refusing to dispatch lashers who secure containers aboard the ships and release the containers for unloading. The employers contended that the ILWU “failed to fill 260 of the 900 jobs ordered at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,” on June 7. 

The union released a statement saying that it "remains committed to bargaining a contract," while accusing the PMA of using the media in attempt to influence the process. “Despite what you are hearing from PMA, West Coast ports are open as we continue to work under our expired collective bargaining agreement,” stated International President Willie Adams. Media reports have however suggested that the talks are bogged down on the final issues of pay raises and other benefits.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday released a letter sent to President Joe Biden calling for the administration to name a mediator to guide the talks to completion. The Chamber followed earlier similar calls from the National Retail Federation, which cautioned of the disruptions as retailers seek to import inventory for the peak selling seasons in the third and fourth quarters of the year. Jay Timmons, President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers also released a statement saying, “Manufacturers respectfully urge (President Biden) to use all the tools at his disposal to meet this moment and reopen America's West Coast ports.”

All the trade associations are warning of the potential for significant harm to the U.S. economy if the port disruptions continue. It is also being highlighted that these actions are further encouraging shippers and carriers to continue to divert volumes to the U.S. Gulf and East Coast ports.