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What's behind work stoppages at West Coast ports

Aug 11, 2023Aug 11, 2023

Shipping containers at the Port of Long Beach in California. Photo: Tim Rue/Getty Images

Operations at several West Coast ports were "throttled" Monday due to labor stoppages or slowdowns, the WSJ reported, as union contract negotiations between dockworkers and shipping companies dragged into a second year.

Why it matters: These kinds of work stoppages have disrupted operations at West Coast ports for months, pushing more shipping activity to the East Coast and raising painfully familiar concerns about supply chain disruptions.

The latest: Some trade groups have urged the Biden administration to get involved, but the White House on Monday said it's just monitoring the situation.

Zoom out: Contract talks began in May 2022 between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents more than 22,000 workers across 29 ports from Washington state to California, and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents shipping companies and terminal operators.

The big picture: While the economic impact of a daylong work stoppage is negligible, the drawn-out labor negotiations are tarnishing the West Coast ports' reputation as a reliable gateway of international trade, says Jock O'Connell, international trade adviser at Beacon Economics. (Beacon advises economic development agencies in California that want to see uninterrupted trade flows, but are not involved in the negotiations.)

What's next: The parties have ironed out a few issues — even coming to terms on automation — but the thorniest issue remains: wages.

Context: The shipping industry saw astonishing profits over the past three years, and the unions want to see some of that money.

Why it matters: The latest: Zoom out: For example: The big picture: What's next: Context: