That’s why it’s now more important than ever for shippers to continue to nudge dockworkers—those represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on the West Coast and International Longshoremen’s Union on the East Coast—and their employers to engage constructively to promote facilitation at the nation’s vital container terminals instead of waiting and running up against a wall of discontent at the time their contracts expire.
In mid-August, the ILWU, which represents about 20,000 members across 29 West Coast ports, voted to enter into discussions with representatives of the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) about an extension to their current five-year contract which expires on June 30, 2019. Those talks have been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 1-2.
No one in the supply chain should soon forget the fractious negotiations between the ILWU and PMA from March 12, 2014 to Feb. 20, 2015, when employers accused the union of slowdowns and the union accused employers of withholding labor and shortening hours. Cargo sat at the docks and dozens of ships were moored off the West Coast waiting to come to berth so they could discharge and load.
And then it wasn’t until May 22, 2015 that the contract was finally ratified by the ILWU’s members, nearly a year after the prior contract had expired, furthering uneasiness among the nation’s shippers.
Last September, the International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance (USMX), the group that represents their employers, also took important steps toward discussing a contract extension. The current ILA‐USMX master contract runs until September 2018 and the two sides agreed to begin talks to extend that pact by up to seven years.
“A new model for future negotiations needs to be developed, one which stresses early and continuous dialogue. This should include a pledge by both parties to ensure there are no disruptions to cargo movement during negotiations,” said a group of 128 trade organizations in an August letter to the ILWU and PMA urging early contract talks. A similarly worded industry letter could apply to the ILA and USMX.
What should be a bigger concern for shippers, however, is if the dockworkers’ unions and their employers wait to renegotiate these contracts. Unless they’re extended, the existing contracts will expire in less than a year of each other, which could mean the possibility of concurrent negotiations on both coasts—a recipe for a national supply chain disaster if both sides should become bogged down and antagonistic.