A group of 238 trade associations, including the American Trucking Association, has called on President Joe Biden to play a more active role in the labor negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) at West Coast ports.
The coalition argues that the uncertainty surrounding the negotiations has resulted in a significant shift of cargo flows away from the West Coast ports. They highlight that many cargo interests have explicitly stated that they redirected their cargo due to the labor negotiations.
The Port of Los Angeles lost its position as the busiest port in the United States to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last year. In the past 60 days, both Los Angeles and Long Beach have experienced a decline in container volumes, with a 32% year-over-year decrease compared to the nearly record-setting year of 2022.
Conversely, the Port of Savannah in Georgia has seen a 46% volume increase over the past five years and has ongoing construction projects aimed at expanding its capacity from 6 million to 9.5 million containers per year by 2025. Other East Coast ports, such as the Port of Baltimore and South Carolina's Port of Charleston, also have ambitious expansion plans.
The negotiations between the PMA and ILWU began after the contract expired on July 1,
2022. Although both parties have committed to avoiding worker lockouts or strikes, the negotiations have been conducted under a strict news blackout. Some key issues, such as medical plans for workers, have been resolved.
The coalition urging the White House seeks to see more expeditious progress, concerned that the longer the talks continue, the more likely freight movement from the 29 West Coast ports may permanently shift. They emphasize the need for continuity in the supply chain, expressing concerns about the added stress and complications caused by ongoing and seemingly indefinite negotiations.
Chris Spear, President of the ATA, stated, "For the sake of our country, it's time to bring these negotiations to a close." The Department of Labor currently lacks a Cabinet-level official since former Secretary Marty Walsh left the Biden administration to assume the role of executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association. Deputy Secretary Julie Su has been nominated to lead the department but requires confirmation from the Senate.