As February rolls along, so too do the labor talks between dockworkers from the West Coast of the United States and their employers. The discussion has now stretched nearly 10 months, with little to indicate there’s little to indicate an agreement is on the horizon. Coupled with dropping volumes, patience has begun to wear thin.
Ongoing labor talks have been a staple in the logistics and shipping industry since the COVID-19 pandemic. But now that the industry is seeing a drop in volume from pandemic heights, some in the shipping industry feel the slowdown in cargo has also slowed down discussions over wages and labor rights for over 22,000 dockworkers.
Coupled with plunging rates and in turn profits industry wide, some close to the discussion worry the dockworkers have lost some of their leverage in negotiations, and in turn focus. We need to get it done,” said Alan McCorkle, CEO of Yusen Terminals LLC at the Port of Los Angeles. “It’s on people’s minds. It’s a distraction.”
While not major shutdowns have occurred due to the discussions as of yet, it’s clear these discussions are looming over West Coast workers who haven’t announced major progress since July, when some concessions were made around healthcare.
Where Talks Stand
Officials at many ports and from the White House have said they hoped a new deal between the workers’ International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, who acts as the prober for more than 70 port operators and ocean liners, would have been in place by now.
“I wish this negotiation was done, but there’s a lot of issues out there they want to get through,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said on Feb. 2. Walsh, who has been in regular contact with both sides throughout the course of these discussions, is said to be leaving the White House to become the Executive Director of the NHL players association in the coming months. This will leave discussion even more open ended than they have been in recent months. The White House has yet to confirm this news and has not named a replacement should this curveball be thrown their way.
The Path Forward
Outside of the many regional issues being experienced at ports from Southern California to Seattle, a large piece of the conversation revolves around automation in ports and shipping. With so many issues becoming apparent due to the volume seen throughout the course of the pandemic, the unions have pushed back on automating too much, too quickly. Yet another action item where conversations have stalled out.
While West Coast talks rumble on, unions and companies operating on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico have begun their next labor talks. Learning from the talks out west, they’re getting ahead of their next pact which is due to expire on September 30, 2023. These types of conversations seem they’ll be more and more a part of the industry moving forward.