The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling on President Biden to intervene in the ongoing labor negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) at West Coast ports.
In a letter to sent to President Biden by Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne Clark, she emphasized the urgent need for Biden Administration to appoint an independent mediator to facilitate an agreement between the two sides.
“With continued and potentially expanded service disruptions at these ports heading into peak shipping season, we urge your Administration to intervene immediately and appoint an independent mediator to help the two parties reach an agreement that prevents significant economic harm to American families and the economy,” the letter states.
Negotiations between the ILWU and the PMA began in May 2022. After initial progress on healthcare and other benefits, progress slowed towards the end of the year. Tensions escalated in March 2023 when ILWU members at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach halted staggered lunch breaks. The Chamber of Commerce says this action effectively shut down the ports for an additional two hours each day, causing significant delays and backups.
Additional disruptions came in April when ILWU Local 13 in Southern California withheld workers in protest of the lack of progress in negotiations, resulting in the shutdown of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The situation reached a critical point earlier this month when multiple West Coast ports experienced complete shutdowns due to worker no-shows.
The Chamber of Commerce noted potentially significant long-term consequences of these disruptions as shippers increasingly divert cargoes to East and Gulf coast ports, indicating a lack of confidence in the West Coast ports. There’s increasing concern that these diversions, which began last year as a precaution against labor disruptions, are now becoming a more permanent trend.
“A serious work stoppage at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach would likely cost the U.S. economy nearly half a billion dollars a day – and a more widespread strike along the West Coast could cost approximately $1 billion per day, using the cost estimates of the Bush Administration in 2002,” the letter states. “The economic costs of a dispute that results in a port closure would be devastating to consumers and businesses, which are already enduring historically high levels of inflation. Simply put, the easiest way to return to the West Coast port crisis of 2020-2021 is if this situation is not resolved as soon as possible.”