Date: 6th June 2023
It is under renewed pressure to intervene and resolve labour issues across US west coast ports as industrial action stretches into a fifth day, and the threat of strikes north of the border emerges.
With employers and employees into their 13th month of negotiating new contracts, the tense situation broke down on Friday with many terminals from southern California to Washington state forced to shut down, and sporadic industrial action set to continue today. Ship queues have yet to emerge unlike in previous incidents along the west coast such as in 2015.
Worryingly for shippers making alternative plans, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Canada are due to vote later this week on whether or not to proceed with a 72-hour walk-out at the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert.
“Given that a large amount of Canada west coast cargo is railroaded across the continent, such an action will rapidly increase pressure, and congestion, on the east coast,” warned CEO of container advisory Vespucci Maritime, in a post on LinkedIn.
The senior vice president of government relations for the Washington DC-based National Retail Federation, called on the US government to intervene, commenting: “Thousands of retailers and other businesses depend on smooth and efficient operations at the ports to deliver goods to consumers every day. As we enter the peak shipping season for the holidays, these additional disruptions will force retailers and other important shipping partners to continue to shift cargo away from the west coast ports until a new labour contract is established. It is imperative that the parties return to the negotiating table. We urge the administration to mediate to ensure the parties quickly finalise a new contract without additional disruptions.”
The President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, tweeted: “Manufacturers implore the White House to bring negotiating parties together and reopen America’s shipping gateways on the West Coast.”
The longer the strike, the larger the backlog, the longer it will take to clear and restore normal levels of operations once labour fully resumes.
A partner at CTI Consultancy, a container shipping advisory, told Splash: “You will see some cargo diversions and rerouting, as happened last time and the many times before that. But the fact is that capacity elsewhere does not exist to handle all US west coast diverted cargo. And the drought-hit Panama Canal is also a bottleneck.”
Last month, further draft restrictions were announced for the Panama Canal, whereby some of the larger boxships transiting it will have to do so carrying 40% less boxes than normal.