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Apparel Associations Urge Biden Administration to Engage in West Coast Labor Negotiations

Shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles

Shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles. Photo credit: Barrett Ward via Unsplash.

West Coast ports and dockworkers are negotiating a new labor contract. If things don’t go well there could be delays that undermine U.S. competitiveness. The AAFA and others say that delay would mean increased supply chain disruptions and higher costs for consumers

America’s seaports are critical gateways for goods entering and leaving the United States. Last year, many West Coast ports struggled to keep pace with the enormous amount of goods arriving from Asia, resulting in long delays to deliver home goods, electronics, holiday gifts, and other products to U.S. consumers. This year, the West Coast ports and their dockworkers’ union are negotiating a new long-term labor contract. If these negotiations go poorly, there could be new delays that could also undermine our nation’s long-term competitiveness.

What’s the situation?

Seaports are critical gateways for goods and raw materials entering and leaving the United States. A good illustration: the 29 West Coast ports – including the ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle-Tacoma, and Oakland – handle handling approximately 60% of all imports coming from Asia. Critical to the operation of these ports are the dockworkers – the men and women responsible for loading and unloading ocean vessels at these ports, who are represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

ILWU workers and the port terminals renew labor contracts every few years. The current labor contract for the West Coast ILWU members will expire on June 30. The union leadership and the port terminals – represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) – started negotiating a new contract on May 10. Both parties share a goal of agreeing on a new contract by July 1, but because this contract will set pay, benefits, work hours, and other issues for several years, much is at stake.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), and the Travel Goods Association (TGA) jointly sent a letter to President Biden and Vice President Harris regarding the ongoing International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) contract negotiations at the West Coast ports.

The groups urge the administration to engage in the West Coast labor negotiations to ensure the needs of the workers and the ports are met, and further backups, delays, and inflationary costs are avoided.

Key highlights:

According to the associations, if both parties don’t remain at the table and the current negotiations don’t make meaningful progress toward an agreement, the consequences will exacerbate existing supply chain challenges. They say this will be to the detriment of the U.S. economy, American importers and exporters, the tens of millions of workers they employ, and the hundreds of millions of consumers they serve.

The associations urge the encouragement of both parties to remain at the table until an agreement is finalized because even a relatively brief port slowdown or shutdown would compound current supply chain challenges and cause long-lasting damage to consumer confidence and American businesses.

The associations hope that the administration, the PMA, and the ILWU will leverage this opportunity to address systemic operational challenges at U.S. ports, supporting infrastructure modernization and enabling transparency, data sharing, and interoperability to facilitate end-to-end visibility.

The full letter is given below:

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