Work Resumed at Los Angeles and Long Beach Ports After 24 Hour Walkout

California ports resume port
Crane operators and drivers for the cargo handling equipment went back to work after failing to show for shifts on Thursday and Friday (Port of Los Angeles file photo)

Published Apr 10, 2023 12:37 PM by The Maritime Executive

Workers at the twin Southern California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach went back to work on April 7 after failing to show up for two shifts and port operations are proceeding as normal with the union denying there was a job action. However, the latest development after nine months of contract negotiations has left many people questioning what the interruption means for the future of the ports.

The Pacific Maritime Association which represents the employers confirmed that workers were showing up for their scheduled shifts on Friday evening after having asserted that the ILWU Local 13, the largest ILWU local on the West Coast, had taken a concerted action to withhold labor at the ports resulting in widespread worker shortages starting with the second shift at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 6. The terminals were forced to suspend operations Thursday evening and again on Friday morning when workers also did not report for their assigned shifts.

Southern California dockworkers reported for the 5 p.m. shift on Friday, April 7. Saturday was also a normal workday at the ports, while Sunday had been scheduled as a day off for the Easter holiday.

Analysts and government officials were quick to point out the critical role that the Southern California ports play both to the local economy and the nation’s supply chain. There are approximately 175,000 people employed at the twin ports. Even with a decline in container volumes that began in mid-2022, the ports together handle nearly 40 percent of U.S. imports from Asia.

“These actions undermine confidence in West Coast ports and threaten to further accelerate the diversion of discretionary cargo to Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports,” the PMA said in its statement on Friday morning. “The health of the Southern California and state economy depend on the ability of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to stem this market share erosion.”

The union local issued a statement later Friday denying any specific job action. They said, “Longshore workers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach (Ports) are still hard at work and remain committed to moving the nation’s cargo….Cargo operations are ongoing as longshore workers at the ports remain on the job.” The local cited a Thursday evening monthly membership meeting that included the swearing-in of a new president and that Friday was a religious holiday for some members.

“This is quite clearly a wake-up call to port ports’ operators,” a retired professor from UC Berkeley, Harney Shaiken, who specialized in labor issues, told the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper reports that he believes the 24-hour interruption should add a sense of urgency to the contract negotiations.

Other experts point to the ongoing decline in volumes at the Southern California ports while others such as Houston, Savannah, and New York/New Jersey are reporting relative strength. Port of New York/New Jersey last week highlighted that it had once again regained the title of the busiest U.S. gateway at the beginning of 2023, a position it had also held between August and November 2022.

Experts noted that what has begun as a temporary diversion of traffic away from the Southern California ports could easily become a permanent rerouting. They are warning that the longer the uncertainty over the contract and the potential for more disruptions hangs over the ports the greater the likelihood that some of the business will never come back to the Los Angles and Long Beach ports.