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Dockworker Labor Talks to Restart Amid Tension

Contract talks between dockworkers and their employer on the East and Gulf coasts have yet to begin, but tensions are already flaring, The Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports.

What’s going on: “The International Longshoremen’s Association … is already threatening a strike against shipping companies and port employers if a deal on a new multiyear contract can’t be reached before the current agreement expires Sept. 30.”

  • The ILA, which represents more than 45,000 dockworkers “at ports from Maine to Texas, has told local chapters to resolve local work issues with employers by May 17 so that a coast-wide deal can be negotiated before the current contract expires. Formal negotiations would be scheduled once the local agreements are reached.”
  • Talks began in late 2022 but stalled a year ago.

The background: In September, after 14 months of often-tumultuous negotiations and several walkouts and work stoppages, West Coast dockworkers reached an agreement with their employer, the Pacific Maritime Association.

  • The Biden administration stepped in to help broker that deal.

Why it’s important: “Any walkout would hit the gateways in the middle of the busiest part of the shipping season, when retailers and other importers prepare for holiday consumer sales.” 

  • To avoid potential delays, East Coast importers are expected to bring in holiday-season goods early this year or send more goods from Asia to the U.S. via West Coast ports.
  • The large wage increases ILA is said to be pursuing could prove difficult for carriers to sustain, given the post-pandemic decline in freight demand.  
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