U.S. shippers in the coming weeks will engage in a full-court press on Capitol Hill and at the White House to voice the importance of preventing labor disruption at West Coast ports as the expiration of the current coastwise longshore agreement approaches.
The stepped-up effort comes in the wake of a clear message coming out of the TPM conference that there will almost certainly be no early agreement in negotiations between waterfront employers and members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, setting up the possibility of disruption on the docks around the time the current 6-year contract expires on June 30th.
Congress and the Obama administration need to understand the importance to the U.S. economy of the ILWU and employers staying at the negotiating table, said Jon Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation.
“We can’t afford to have another 2002,” Gold said, referring to the 10-day West Coast port lockout in the fall of that year, following disruption that employers blamed on the union following the collapse of negotiations before the then July 1 deadline.
Gold said he been meeting with several shipper groups, including the National Industrial Transportation League, the American Farm Bureau and the National Association of Manufacturers, to raise awareness about the challenges facing negotiators.
All groups he has spoken to are well aware of the negative impact a strike could have on their supply chains, he said. The challenge now is getting policy makers to gain the same understanding, Gold said.
Jim McKenna, PMA president and lead negotiator, told the JOC’s TPM Conference in Long Beach in March that he believes an agreement will be reached by mid-July, after the expiration of the current agreement but avoiding a strike or employer lockout. Former APL CEO Ron Widdows said at TPM that a work stoppage for any length of time is “not happening, just not happening,” because the government will step to reopen the ports like it did in 2002.
Others, such as Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Washington-based Agriculture Transportation Coalition, are expecting some type of labor fallout. He recently told his members to prepare for labor disruptions and slowdowns starting in June and, importantly, to make contingency plans. Friedmann expects the two parties to agree to an extension to the current contract, agreeing with McKenna that the two sides won’t strike a deal for a new contract by the end of June.