FMC Commissioner calls on Biden to resolve ILA South Carolina labour dispute

Charleston, SC, USA - April 29, 2022: Ship-to-shore cranes and gantry cranes at Leatherman Terminal in Charleston Harbor, where the Hapag-Lloyd ship Delaware Express is moored.

A Commissioner for the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has called on President Biden to intervene in ongoing labour dispute between South Carolina (SC) Ports Authority with the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA) at the Hugh K. Leatherman terminal.

FMC Commissioner Louis E. Sola wrote he was “shocked” that the new terminal, opened in March 2021 and based in Charleston, is being underutilised due to the dispute.

SC Ports has broken record after record for containers handled at the Port of Charleston, with May marking the 15th consecutive month of cargo records driven by sustained retail imports.

Thus far in fiscal year 2022, SC Ports has moved roughly 2.7 million TEU – accounting for a 15 per cent increase compared to the year prior.

The Hugh K. Leatherman terminal is expected to handle 2.4 million TEU year on year; however Sola lamented that this capacity is yet to be realised as the labour dispute remains before the US National Labor Relations Board.

There is “no clear indication when the matter will be resolved,” according to Sola.

“I am shocked that this much needed terminal is laying fallow during this time of crisis due to an organised labour dispute in a right to work state,” Sola wrote.

“The thought that a labour dispute would contribute to this nation’s current supply chain problem defies logic. Blocking the utilisation of this terminal contributes to the delay in the import and export of needed commodities and contributes to the general level of Co2 emissions as ships loiter at sea awaiting an opening at the pier.”

Sola continued that the White House examine the situation in South Carolina in equal value to that of the ongoing talks between the International Longshoremen and Warehousing Union (ILWU) and Pacific Marine Association (PMA) on the US West Coast.

He wrote: “It should be obvious to even the most casual of observers that the opening of this terminal is essential. Every asset at our disposal should be utilised in this effort. As we have seen, the excessive backlog of vessels in one major port creates a domino effect in all others across the country.

“As west coast delays have grown, carriers with goods from Asia have begun to deliver their cargos to east coast ports creating growing strains on capacity there. With every additional vessel queued up at sea waiting for a berth, Americans suffer with empty shelfs and higher prices.”

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