Market Matters Blog

Lack of West Coast Labor Contract Agreement Festers Among Workers

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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Dockworkers caused a shutdown at container terminals at the Port of Long Beach recently as contract negotiations are still not settled between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association. (DTN file photo)

It has been nearly one year that more than 22,000 International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) dockworkers have been without a contract, and tensions continue to rise. Contract talks between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the ILWU are not public, but workers have said there has been no relief on salary and staffing levels.

According to the Journal of Commerce on June 5, "West Coast longshore labor is flexing its power to seek significantly higher wages and manning changes that would put two workers rather than one on some port equipment, sources said Monday, continuing a fourth day of disruptions at some marine terminals."

On June 5, the PMA released a statement saying, "Over the weekend and continuing today, the ILWU has continued to stage concerted and disruptive work actions that have slowed operations at key marine terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and elsewhere on the West Coast, including the Ports of Oakland and Seattle. The ILWU's coast-wide work actions since June 2 are forcing retailers, manufacturers, and other shippers to ship cargo away from the West Coast in favor of ports on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Much of the diverted cargo may never return to the West Coast."

On June 2, the ILWU Coast Longshore Division released a statement saying, "The ILWU is committed to bargaining a contract that is fair and equitable, including wages and benefits that reflect the dedication of the ILWU workforce and its contributions to the shipping industry's success."

"Any reports that negotiations have broken down are false," stated International President Willie Adams. "We are getting there but it's important to understand that West Coast dockworkers kept the economy going during the pandemic and lost their lives doing so. We aren't going to settle for an economic package that doesn't recognize the heroic efforts and personal sacrifices of the ILWU workforce that lifted the shipping industry to record profits."

Back in March 2023, a coalition of more than 230 national, state, and local trade associations wrote to President Joe Biden urging the administration to take a more active role in the West Coast port labor negotiations. On June 5, the National Retail Federation (NRF), who organized the March 24 letter, issued a statement from Senior Vice President of Government Relations David French after reports of disruptions at terminals at Ports of Oakland and Long Beach.

"The United States ports, particularly those on the West Coast, play a critical role in the vitality of the American economy. Thousands of retailers and other businesses depend on smooth and efficient operations at the ports to deliver goods to consumers every day," said French.

French added, "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 labor 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 finalize a new contract without additional disruptions."

The issue was addressed June 5 during the White House press briefing as it related to the NRF request for President Biden to intervene in the contract talks. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, "We're monitoring this situation very closely and we're going to continue to monitor it. What we see is the best way to move forward is for both sides, or for all sides, to continue to work to come to the table and come to a solution here. And so that's what we are going to continue to encourage all parties to work in good faith toward a mutually beneficial resolution that ensures that workers get the fair benefits, quality of life, and wages that they deserve. And that's what we believe that we're going to continue to be very vocal about."

Concern is now mounting that the ILWU workers may call for a strike vote if the situation does not improve as far as the sticking points in the current negotiations. The last time a president stepped in on West Coast labor negotiations was in February 2015 when President Barack Obama intervened in the nine-month labor dispute that created a slowdown of shipments in the West Coast ports and hundreds of millions of dollars lost.

PMA June 5 statement:…

June 5 Whitehouse briefing:…

ILWU statement:…

The National Retail Federation statement:…

Mary Kennedy can be reached at

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