In November, PPAI Media reported that the ongoing labor negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) employer group and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), previously expected to conclude in the August-September timeframe, remained ongoing. It’s now March 2023 and not only has no agreement been reached, but tensions between the two sides are on the rise.

With negotiations in their 10th month, PPAI and its industry partners are calling on the Biden Administration to assist in reaching an agreement.

The Promo Perspective

With a resolution and timeline for the labor negotiations still uncertain, importers in the promotional products industry will likely have to remain flexible. While the West Coast remains the largest conduit for imported goods into the U.S., ports in the Gulf and on the East Coast have become more viable options as shippers redirect cargo.

The negotiations that began in May 2022 affect 22,000 dockworkers at 29 ports from California to Washington. They cover wages, working conditions and several other issues. Dockworkers have been without a contract since July 2022.

  • Talks stalled last summer over a number of disagreements, foremost among them details surrounding the assignment of jobs and the use of automated port equipment.
  • Importers began redirecting cargo to Gulf and East Coast ports last summer. Due to redirected cargoes and a general slowdown in global trade, freight volume at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were down 38% in February from the year-ago level.

While there have been intermittent, local disruptions in Washington and California, both sides have agreed not to discuss negotiations with the media. Last week, however, the PMA publicly accused dockworkers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach of slowing down traffic at the facilities, allowing queues of trucks to build up. The ILWU, in turn, noted that trucks can become backed up for any number of reasons and that the PMA was just using the issue to sway public opinion.

The Letter

PPAI has joined with the National Retail Federation and 236 state, local and national trade associations in a letter to President Biden encouraging the administration to provide both the ILWU and the PMA any and all support to end the negotiations and reach an agreement quickly to ensure no disruptions in port operations and cargo traffic.

PPAI, the NRF and their partners previously reached out to the White House in July 2022, when the negotiations first began, and then Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, who stepped down earlier this month, became engaged in the ongoing discussions. The parties’ letter calls on the White House to appoint a new point person to the negotiations.

The letter also highlights potential business disruptions if negotiations break down further. It says, “Businesses have already made their shipping decisions for the all-important peak shipping season, which will begin this summer. Even though cargo volumes have dropped, we continue to experience supply chain stress and challenges.

“While many continue to recover from pandemic related issues, the ongoing stress of inflation and economic uncertainty continues to impact supply chain stakeholders as well. The lack of a labor contract adds to this uncertainty.”