US West Coast dock worker’s contract is expiring, raising the stakes for talks

LOS ANGELES, July 1 (Reuters) – The union and employers, who are negotiating a new job contract for more than 22,000 longshoremen on the US West Coast, said the high-stakes talks, supported by industry and the White House, are closely related be observed after the late expiry of the agreement would continue on Friday.

The agreement includes 29 ports on the Pacific coast stretching from California to Washington state and handling nearly 40% of US imports. Any slowdown or disruption to work could disrupt the country’s already ailing supply chains, stoking inflation and putting pressure on a flagging economy that is sinking President Joe Biden’s approval ratings.

“While there will be no contract extension, cargo will move on and normal operations in ports will continue until an agreement can be reached,” said the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) Employers’ Group and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). in a joint statement.

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“Both sides understand the ports’ strategic importance to the local, regional and U.S. economies and recognize the need to finalize a new coast-wide contract as soon as possible,” the PMA and ILWU said before the contract expires at 5 p.m. PDT Friday ( 0000 GMT Saturday).

When the contract expired, so did its “no strike” clause, said Peter Tirschwell, vice president of maritime, trade and supply chain at S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Hours before the expiration, more than 150 business groups implored Biden to push for a smooth and quick resolution.

Groups representing industries from agriculture and apparel to trucks and toys have asked the President to work with the PMA and ILWU to extend the contract, commit to good faith ongoing negotiations and avoid any activity leading to further ones disruptions would result.

The Labor faceoff has been on Biden’s radar for months. He took the unusual step of meeting with the ILWU and PMA on June 10 in Los Angeles. His labor minister holds weekly review talks with both sides, which kicked off talks in May. Continue reading

“We have never had a White House as present in these negotiations as it is now,” Tirschwell said.

The last negotiation for employment contracts on the West Coast collapsed after nine months in 2015. Longshoremen stopped work for eight days, straining trade flows and sucking an estimated $8 billion from Southern California’s economy alone. President Barack Obama sent his Secretary of Labor to forge a deal.

Automating container movements in ports, resulting in fewer jobs, seems to be a key issue in current talks. Neither side has specifically identified the problem, but the PMA and ILWU have published dueling studies on the impact of automation and exchanged media barbs.

In a June 14 statement, the PMA and ILWU said they are not planning any work stoppages or lockouts that would aggravate existing shipping blockages. Continue reading

Nevertheless, careful shippers do not take any risks. They route cargo away from the West Coast to avoid potential work-related delays, particularly at the nation’s busiest seaport complex at Los Angeles/Long Beach. This drives up costs and helps secure ports in New York/New Jersey, Savannah, and Houston. Continue reading

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Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles Editing by Marguerita Choy, Alistair Bell and Leslie Adler

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