Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Labor talks at West Coast ports hit snag amid automation issues

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Labor negotiations between dock workers and the West Coast port operators have hit a snag, with experts speculating that clashes over automation are partly to blame.

Despite meeting with President Biden on Friday, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union – representing some 22,000 dockworkers along the West coast – and the Pacific Maritime Association do not expect to reach an agreement by July 1 when their contract expires.

A key sticking point in the negotiations, experts say, has been proposals to upgrade the ports’ use of technology. Ship owners and ports have advocated for more automation. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are ranked last on the 2021 World Bank’s Container Port Performance Index, at 369 and 370, respectively.

Despite concerns that bottlenecks associated with inefficiencies at the ports are aggravating product shortages and inflation nationwide, the unions are steadfastly against automation, maintaining that it will eliminate jobs.

US companies are concerned that a negotiation break down will result in supply chain pile-ups.

US importers and manufacturers have long feared that a breakdown in the negotiations will set off work stoppages and strikes – as they have in every previous labor negotiation in recent years.

“The entire industry is on pins and needsles,” one manufacturer who ships goods to the West Coast from China told The Post. “This is a looming crisis and we’re hearing and reading nothing about any real progress on this and no messaging from the White House.”

Ships backed up along a West Coast port.
Every recent labor negotiation between the dock workers’ union and port operators have resulted in work stoppages and delays

But the ILWU and PMA say they are not “preparing for a strick or lockout, contrary to speculation and news reports,” they said in a statement.

The president met with two sides to “discuss supply chain congestion” holding a press conference at the Port of Los Angeles to rising inflation and vowing to crack down on greedy shipping companies.

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