In a world contending with no end of economic troubles, a fresh source of concern now looms: the prospect of a confrontation between union dockworkers and their employers at some of the most critical ports on earth.
The potential conflict centers on negotiations over a new contract for more than 22,000 union workers employed at 29 ports along the West Coast of the United States. Nearly three-fourths work at the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the primary gateway for goods shipped to the United States from Asia, and a locus of problems afflicting the global supply chain.
The contract for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union expires at the end of June. For those whose livelihoods are tied to ports — truckers, logistics companies, retailers — July 1 marks the beginning of a period of grave uncertainty.
A labor impasse could worsen the floating traffic jams that have kept dozens of ships waiting in the Pacific before they can pull up to the docks. That could aggravate shortages and send already high prices for consumer goods soaring.
impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as China imposes new Covid restrictions on industry.
Understand the Supply Chain Crisis
The dockworkers have moved unprecedented volumes of cargo during the pandemic, even as at least two dozen succumbed to Covid-19, according to the union. They are aware that many of the shipping terminals in Southern California are controlled by global carriers that have been racking up record profits while sharply increasing cargo rates — a fact cited by President Biden in his recent State of the Union address as he promised a “crackdown” to alleviate inflation.
With ports now capturing attention in Washington, some within the shipping industry express confidence that negotiations will yield a deal absent a disruptive slowdown or strike.
“There’s too much at stake for both sides,” Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said during a recent interview in his office overlooking towering cranes and stacks of containers. “There’s an incentive because the nation is watching.”
“If they don’t come to a compromise, then freight will get permanently diverted to the East Coast,” Mr. Matinifar said.
Animating contract talks is the popular notion that the longshoremen are a privileged class within the supply chain, using the union to protect their ranks — a source of resentment among other workers.
“They treat us like we’re nobodies,” said Mr. Chilton, the truck driver. “The way they talk to us, they’re very rude.”