The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling on President Biden to intervene in ongoing labor negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in West Coast ports.
In a letter to President Biden from Suzanne Clark, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, she stressed the urgent need for the Biden administration to appoint an independent mediator to facilitate an agreement between the two sides.
“In light of the ongoing and potentially extended disruption to operations in these ports leading into the peak shipping season, we urge your government to step in immediately and appoint an independent mediator to help the two parties reach an agreement that will have significant economic impact.” Damage to American families and the economy prevented,” the letter said.
Negotiations between the ILWU and the PMA began in May 2022. After initial progress on health care and other services, progress slowed towards the end of the year. Tensions escalated in March 2023 when ILWU members in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach canceled staggered lunch breaks. According to the Chamber of Commerce, this measure shut down the ports for a further two hours each day, causing significant delays and data congestion.
Further disruption occurred in April when ILWU Local District 13 in Southern California held back workers to protest the lack of progress in negotiations, leading to the closure of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The situation reached a critical point earlier this month when several West Coast ports were shut down entirely due to worker no-shows.
The Chamber of Commerce pointed to potentially significant long-term consequences of these disruptions as shippers increasingly divert cargo to East and Gulf Coast ports, indicating a lack of confidence in West Coast ports. There is growing concern that these diversions, which began last year as a precaution against work stoppages, are now becoming a more permanent trend.
A major work stoppage in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach would likely cost the US economy nearly half a billion dollars a day — and a more widespread strike along the West Coast could cost about $1 billion a day, according to the Bush administration’s cost estimates in 2002,” the letter reads. “The economic cost of a dispute that leads to the closure of a port would be devastating to consumers and businesses already suffering from historically high inflation. Put simply, the easiest way to return to the West Coast port crisis of 2020-2021 is to not resolve this situation as soon as possible.”
You can read the Chamber of Commerce letter to President Biden Here.