Contract talks continue after ILWU’s West Coast pact expires
Fair wages and working conditions are key to keeping containers moving at the Port of Los Angeles. |

LOS ANGELES—With encouragement from Biden administration Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union–the independent union which represents almost 23,000 West Coast dockworkers–and West Court port executives are continuing, even after ILWU’s current contract expired June 30.

In a joint statement, ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, the coalition of 29 ports from Seattle to San Diego, both added they want to avoid a lockout or a strike.

“While there will be no contract extension, cargo will keep moving, and normal operations will continue at the ports until an agreement can be reached,” they said.

Walsh, a Laborers Local 223 member, has been in contact with both sides almost daily, but he isn’t worried. And during a trip to Los Angeles on June 10, Biden met behind closed doors with both sides, Reuters added.

Both sides “continually tell me that we’re in a good place. It’s moving forward,” Walsh told trade publications for the maritime industry. “There’s been no issues that I’m aware of that have come up that have made either side concerned.” That includes port automation, he said.

The talks are important to keeping the nation’s creaky supply chain going, especially since the port of Los Angeles-Long Beach is the nation’s busiest. Some 40% of all imported goods come through the West Coast ports, with the largest share through L.A.-Long Beach.

They’re also important for Biden politically. The backups at the ports have aggravated shortages which in turn have helped sour the mood of millions of voters going into November.

Some shippers, eyeing current and longtime backups in L.A.-Long Beach—due to lack of railroad cars and crews thanks to those carriers’ job cuts—have started shifting cargo to the East and Gulf Coasts, news reports say.

Reuters added that as a result of those shifts, which send the cargo ships through the Panama Canal or, if they’re too big for its locks, around Cape Horn, backups at L.A.-Long Beach are lessening, while more goods are being unloaded at Houston, Savannah, Ga., and other East and Gulf Coast ports.

Members of the New Jersey-based International Longshoremen’s Association, an AFL-CIO member union, handle that added freight. And ILA “is behind you 100%” in solidarity with ILWU as it “engages in a wage scale negotiation” with the Pacific port owners group, ILA President Harold Daggett said in a video posted on his union’s website.

“I am confident” ILWU President “Willie Adams and his team are going to deliver a great contract for their membership,” Daggett added. He warned PMA: “Don’t try to play one coast against the other. That tactic ain’t gonna work,” since the unions talk daily. And Daggett had a nasty word about automation, too. It’s been a thorny issue in past contract talks.

“Automation does two things: It makes company owners rich and it makes longshore workers unemployed.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.