Unions representing workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are in the midst of contract negotiations with the two ports, and the ongoing talks have led to a widespread shortage of workers that has forced both ports to cease operations and close.
According to the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents shipping employers on the West Coast, the ILWU Local 13 union stopped workers from beginning their shifts Thursday evening.
"The action by the Union has effectively shut down the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach - the largest gateway for maritime trade in the United States," the PMA said. While the union also released a statement, it did not mention any formal, organized action on the part of the port workers.
According to the union, on Thursday, several thousand members attended the union's monthly meeting, during which a new president was sworn in. It also noted on Friday that many of its members were observing religious holidays.
A statement from the union said, "On Friday, April 7, 2023, union members who observe religious holidays took the opportunity to celebrate with their families. Cargo operations are ongoing as longshore workers at the Ports remain on the job."
Port officials and shippers, however, view the absences as something other than religious observations. Many at the ports believe the mass absences are deliberate and are intended to send an unspoken message from the union intended to apply pressure to the talks as the union has been working without a new contract since July.
The port closures hit as cargo volume continues to drop from its peak last year with trade experts noting that some shippers have already begun diverting cargo traffic away from the two California ports.
"A lot of the cargo has been shifted away from the West Coast ports, into the middle of our country and the East Coast," said Nick Vyas, Executive Director of the Kendrick Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Southern California.
"So we have seen a significant drop in volume at our West Coast ports, which is not a good sign," Vyas added.
According to Vyas, 40 percent of foreign goods that arrive in the U.S. come through the 2 ports.
Meanwhile, the Port of Los Angeles released a statement saying that it is in communication with the union and PMA in an effort to return the port to normal operations.
A Port of Los Angeles official said, "Resuming cargo operations at America's busiest port complex is critical to maintaining confidence to our customers and supply chain stakeholders."
According to a statement from the Executive Director of the Port of Long Beach, Mario Cordero, "Four of the Port's container terminals are closed for the day, today, April 7. Terminal operators at the affected sites said they made the decision to close when workers did not report for their shifts this morning. We have no further information as to the situation, but it is expected that normal, regularly scheduled hours and operations will resume tomorrow."
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