Labor disruptions throughout West Coast ports sow uncertainty


Labor issues at several West Coast ports led to limited terminal operations on Friday, creating uncertainty over whether disruptions would continue in the coming days. 

Port officials and at least two trucking executives told Supply Chain Dive the issues were related to unfilled jobs at terminals. The issue caused varying degrees of disruption at maritime gateways in the morning, during longshore workers’ first shift. 

The most significant disruption took place at the Port of Oakland, where international terminals were closed during the day.

The type of disruptions varied by port, Paul Brashier, vice president of drayage and intermodal at ITS Logistics, told Supply Chain Dive.

In some cases, terminal operations were completely down. In others, gates were open but internal operations were closed, which led to congestion and canceled truck appointments. In most cases, the root of the problem appeared to be a lack of workers, Brashier said.

The Pacific Maritime Association blamed the International Longshore and Warehouse Union for the day’s events. But the ILWU did not take credit for a work action, with ILWU Local 13 President Gary Herrera telling Supply Chain Dive in a text message the events were not a work stoppage.

The port disruptions come as the two parties negotiate revisions to their coast-wide master contract. The upheaval Friday marked a drastic flare-up in what had been a series of talks without widespread conflict over the past year. 

While previous disputes during negotiations have been localized to specific ports and union chapters, Friday’s events spread to many of the coast’s largest maritime gateways.

How was each West Coast seaport affected? Here’s what we know.
Seaport What we know as of Friday at 6 p.m. PST
Port of Los Angeles The port was open, but container terminals were affected to “varying degrees,” said Phillip Sanfield, the port’s director of media relations and strategic communications.

“[I’m] not sure if there will be an impact on the night shift,” Sanfield added.

He also noted terminals had not scheduled labor for Saturday and Sunday; the port would monitor if staffing levels normalize by Monday morning.

Port of Long Beach All container terminals at the Port of Long Beach remain open, Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement Friday afternoon.

The port did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Friday evening.

Port of Hueneme The port saw some impact in the morning with jobs going unfilled, including a majority of jobs related to loading and unloading, Donna Toteva Lacayo, the port’s chief commercial and public affairs officer, said in a phone call.

“I’m hearing that the night shift didn’t get filled either today,” Toteva Lacayo said in a text later, shortly after the night shift started at 6 p.m. local time. “We remain optimistic about tomorrow.”

Port of Oakland International terminals closed for the day shift, but the domestic terminal Matson remained open with limited operations, according to Port Spokesperson Marilyn Sandifur.

The port did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Friday evening.

Port of Seattle The Northwest Seaport Alliance referred a media inquiry to terminal operators.

Terminal operators did not reply to a request for comment on Friday.

Port of Tacoma The Northwest Seaport Alliance referred a media inquiry to terminal operators.

The port did not reply to a request for comment on Friday.

As of Friday afternoon, it was unclear whether terminal operations would continue to be disrupted throughout the weekend or into early next week. 

By the time the 6 p.m. shift started, a Port of Hueneme official said they had seen some jobs go unfilled for that shift, but were optimistic labor would normalize over the weekend.

As the day wore on, port officials and shippers’ associations alike urged both the longshore union and terminal employers to resolve the dispute rather than allow disruptions to continue.

“The national economy relies on an outcome that keeps goods moving through the San Pedro Bay ports, the most important gateway for trans-Pacific trade,” Mario Cordero, executive director at the Port of Long Beach, said in an emailed statement. “We are optimistic our waterfront workforce and their employers will resolve their differences quickly.”

The Retail Industry Leaders Association also urged a quick resolution, saying in an emailed statement retailers were alarmed to learn of a work stoppage at West Coast ports. The association called on the Biden-Harris administration to step in and broker a deal if the situation drags on.

“Any interruption or disruption in their operations immediately has a ripple effect that impedes retailers’ ability to quickly and efficiently deliver for American consumers,” the association wrote.

ITS Logistics’ Brashier told Supply Chain Dive many companies may see effects from the disruption, regardless of how long jobs go unfilled. Delays caused by port disruptions on Friday could easily ripple into demurrage fees for truckers and shippers.

“Even if ‘terminals are open and workers are there’ it’s still going to affect and delay shipping,” Brashier said. “Any mild disruptions will start a chain effect that will cause problems.”

The PMA, the national longshore union and its largest chapter, ILWU Local 13, all shared statements on the situation.

In its statement, the employers association placed blame on the union for “staging concerted and disruptive work actions,” saying ports in Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma and Hueneme had been affected.

Union statements, meanwhile, did not take credit for a work stoppage and stated that union members were not pleased with the economic package they were offered by terminal employers during contract talks.

“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,” said ILWU International President Willie Adams in an emailed statement.

However, Adams said the union’s talks with employers were still ongoing, despite Friday’s events.

“Any reports that negotiations have broken down are false,” Adams said.

Alejandra Salgado and Kelly Stroh contributed to this story.

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