Biden Administration quells pressure to mediate West Coast labour negotiations

Biden Administration quells pressure to mediate West Coast labour negotiations

The Biden Administration has warded off all concerted attempts from shipping liners and associations to get the White House to expedite US West Coast contract negotiations.

Despite negotiations persisting for over a year between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), having began in May 2022, the Biden Administration has stressed that it sees no reason to intervene.  

Speaking on the matter, White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said: “When it comes to the West ports, I can say that the President respects the collective bargaining process as the best way for workers and employers to reach mutually beneficial solutions, which we have said before.”

Acting Secretary Su and others in the administration are regularly engaging with the parties, encouraging them to stay at the negotiating table and finish their work,” Jean-Pierre added.

Periodic strikes have plagued West Coast ports for a year, stalling operations at the US’ biggest import hub. Consequently, many importers have permanently rerouted their shipments to the East Coast.

In spite of this seemingly valid concern, the Biden Administration has emphasised the importance of allowing the two parties to reach an equitable resolution among themselves.

“The path forward is for the port workers and their employers to resolve the negotiations so that workers get the wages, benefits, and quality of life that they so deserve,” stated Jean-Pierre in her press briefing.

“That’s what we’re going to continue to call for: asking both parties to come to the table so this can be dealt with.”

READ: Shipping companies feel impact of US West Coast strikes

The ILWU reconvened its strike at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on 11 June, following a string of labour disruptions spanning from 2 June to 7 June, according to the PMA.

The PMA reported that this led to vessels missing their scheduled departures, while alleging that the ILWU “did not fill orders for labour from several terminal operators despite the fact they were placed properly and on time.”

Additionally, the Port of Seattle became the latest West Coast port to be afflicted with operational disruptions on 10 June.

READ: North America West Coast ports show signs of import normalisation

On 12 June, International President, Willie Adams, called out the PMA for spreading erroneous reports regarding ILWU’s inactivity around West Coast ports.

“Despite what you are hearing from PMA, West Coast ports are open as we continue to work under our expired collective bargaining agreement,” stated Adams.

The PMA has since directly responded to this statement, claiming that the disruptive actions by the ILWU sharply contrast with a press release issued by the ILWU.

“For months, the ILWU has staged disruptive work actions targeting the West Coast’s largest ports,” claimed the PMA.  

The PMA further added that these actions: “Have either slowed operations or shut them down altogether, impeding the supply chain, and leaving ships and the American exports they carry sitting idle at the docks.”

Both parties recognise the importance of how these events are perceived by the public and are thus looking to leverage on media tactics to disseminate favourable narratives; that would, in turn, grant them greater bargaining power.

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