LOS ANGELES (CN) — The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were effectively shut down late Thursday and into Friday with the terminal operators blaming the longshore workers union for withholding labor.
The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the international ocean carriers, terminal operators and stevedoring companies that employ the longshore workers, said in a statement Friday that the union's local chapter in LA and Long Beach had withheld labor for the night shift and again for morning shift, causing a widespread worker shortage that made it impossible to load and unload cargo.
"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. "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."
Representatives of Local 13 of the International Longshore and Warehousing Union, which represents the LA and Long Beach dockworkers, declined to comment.
In Long Beach, four of the container terminals were closed Friday after workers didn't report for their morning shift, the port said.
"We have no further information as to the situation, but it is expected that normal, regularly scheduled hours and operations will resume tomorrow," the port's executive director Mario Cordero said in a statement.
The Port of LA said it continues to communicate with the ILWU and PMA, as well as with federal, state and local officials, to support a return to normal operations in the San Pedro Bay.
The ILWU and the PMA have been in negotiations for almost a year to hammer out a new long-term contract for the longshore workers at 29 West Coast ports. LA and Long Beach are the biggest container ports in the U.S. and handle the bulk of U.S. imports from Asia. In recent months, however, worries about labor disruptions have prompted retailers to divert more imports to ports on the Gulf Coast and the East Coast.
The temporary closure of the container terminals comes little over a month after the ILWU and PMA had said that they were "hopeful" that they could reach a deal soon and that they had already tentative agreements on key issues.
The National Retail Federation said Friday that it had asked the Biden administration to step in and prevent prevent any further disruption to port operations and cargo fluidity.
“Retailers throughout the country depend on U.S. ports to support their daily business needs," the federation's senior vice president of government relations David French said in a statement. "The West Coast ports, especially those in Los Angeles and Long Beach, are a pivotal entry point to the United States that allow American consumers access to global products and essential goods."
The crane operators and other longshore workers that load and unload the massive container ships at the busy port terminals are among the best paid blue-collar workers anywhere, with union workers making on average close to $195,000 a year, according to the PMA. The biggest point of contention between the union and the employers over the years has been the employers' push to automate more of the cargo-handling operations on the docks.
That automation would be a key issue for the employers was made clear shortly before the start of the talks last year, when the PMA released a study urging the need for new technology to move cargo for the West Coast ports to remain competitive, facilitate cargo and job growth, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That release so close to the start of talks didn't go unnoticed and the union quickly accused the PMA of posturing and insisted that automation has killed jobs at the ports.
The West Coast ports had continued to operate without much of a hitch since the contract expired this past summer, and both sides have repeatedly said that there wouldn't be any labor disruptions while they negotiate.
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