By Emily Hoeven
Plan to buy something online in the next few months? Then you have a stake in high-intensity negotiations set to begin Tuesday between 22,000 dockworkers and the shipping companies that do business at 29 West Coast ports accounting for nearly 9% of the United States’ gross domestic product.
The talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association — slated to take place in San Francisco — come as U.S. ports are just beginning to recover from a pandemic-induced supply chain crunch that resulted in massive backlogs of ships and goods and skyrocketing inflation rates.
- On Friday, just 35 ships were waiting to unload their cargo at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — which handle 40% of containers entering the U.S. by water — compared to a record high of 109 in January, said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka.
But progress hinges on contract negotiations going smoothly: “If anything further disrupts the supply chain it will be devastating,” said Jim McKenna, president and CEO of the Pacific Maritime Association.
- The contract between the dockworkers’ union and shipping companies is set to expire July 1, and although talks are expected to extend past that date, lead negotiators on both sides said they’re heading into the conversation on good terms.
- Nevertheless, signs of conflict cropped up last week, when the Pacific Maritime Association, representing the shipping companies, released a self-commissioned study that found automated terminals at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports had higher efficiency, lower greenhouse-gas emissions and better work opportunities than non-automated terminals.
- Frank Ponce De Leon, speaking for union workers at the ports: “It’s apparent that the report is a self-serving document by one party to a labor contract, and even worse is an insult to all workers who have seen their jobs outsourced to machines. … We haven’t seen an overall increase in productivity at the ports, just a shell game to mask the human cost of job destruction.”
But those aren’t the only labor negotiations to keep an eye on:
- A bill freeing up swaths of land for affordable housing could be in jeopardy because of a fight between labor unions. The bill is backed by the California Conference of Carpenters but fiercely opposed by the powerful State Building and Construction Trades Council — creating a tough political calculus for lawmakers who may have to decide which facet of organized labor will cause them the most pain during an important election year, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports.
- Labor groups — including the State Building and Construction Trades Council — are mobilizing against efforts from both Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and state lawmakers to limit freeway expansions, particularly in poor communities of color, the Los Angeles Times reports.
- About 55,000 Los Angeles County workers overwhelmingly voted Friday to authorize their union to call an unfair labor practice strike if it can’t reach agreement on a new contract with the county.
- And hundreds of health care workers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center are preparing to launch a five-day strike today, accusing the Los Angeles hospital of unfair labor practices.