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Progress in West Coast Labor Talks Days Before Contract Expiration

West Coast longshore labor negotiations
Union labor contact for West Coast ports expires on June 30 (Long Beach file photo)

Published Jun 28, 2022 7:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

With just two days left until the expiration of the union labor contract covering more than 22,000 longshore employees at 29 U.S. West Coast ports, U.S. Labor Secretary Mary Walsh is reporting that the talks are going well. He told Reuters on Tuesday that “there were no major sticking points” in the negotiations.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association recently admitted that they expected that the negotiations would go beyond the June 20 expiration of the contract. Both sides agreed to a media blackout during the negotiations but made a single joint statement about the status of the talks two weeks ago.  They said that this was not an unexpected development noting that past negotiations have gone past the expiration.

“Neither party is preparing for a strike or a lockout, contrary to speculation in news reports,” the union and employers said in their joint statement on June 14. “The parties remain focused on and committed to reaching an agreement.”

A broad coalition of trade groups and shippers have been closely following developments and looking for any signs of progress since the negotiations began in May, and after a brief pause resumed early in June. Fearful of disruptions that could impact the movement of containers, many organizations have repeatedly called on the Bid Administration to be closely involved in the talks and to make sure that the union and employers remain at the negotiating table until a deal is reached. 

Walsh told Reuters that they have been in regular contact with both sides to monitor the status of the negotiations. He said they have been getting weekly updates. Reuters is quoting him as saying, they are “continually tell me that we’re in a good place. It’s moving forward.”

Observers reported that they believed shippers had begun rerouting cargo to ports along the East Coast and Gulf Coast this summer as a precaution against possible delays or disruptions at the U.S. West Coast ports. It has been speculated that these moves might have contributed to the increased congestion reported at some East Coast ports and at Vancouver. 

Traffic at the southern California ports however continues to decline, possibly due to this potential rerouting as well as lingering effects from the COVID-19 related lockdowns at Shanghai in May. The Marine Exchange of Southern California reports today that they are down to just a fifth of the backup the ports were experiencing at the beginning of 2022. Today, June 28, they reported that three containerships are anchored waiting for berth space while one captain chose to hold further offshore but within the 25-mile zone established around the ports of Los Angles and Long Beach. A further 17 containerships are registered with the ports and currently traveling from Asia to the California ports. The total of 21 containerships is in comparison to the record 109 containerships that were waiting for berth space on January 9, 2022.

Currently, arrivals in the San Pedro Bay are back to the level experienced in 2018-2019 before the pandemic. There are 24 containerships on dock in the two ports today with 16 containerships scheduled to arrive over the next three days at the ports. A total of 52 vessels of all types are currently docked in Los Angeles and Long Beach with a total of 28 anchored in the San Pedro Bay area.