Labor contracts covering more than 22,000 U.S. West Coast pork workers have expired and concerns over a possible strike are mounting, despite assurances from both the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) — which represents the employers — that no labor action is imminent.
Between the tangles already snarling international supply chains, inflation, the ongoing presence of COVID-19 variants and a national resurgence in interest in organized labor representation (See: Starbucks, Amazon), a strike would be a significant threat to fragile agricultural exports. Animal protein exports from the U.S. to Asia would be particularly vulnerable.
One dire scenario would have negotiations continue until the autumn, when trade for the holidays picks up significantly and a strike at the ports would have maximum impact. As in many labor-intensive industries, a key sticking point is employers’ desire to install more automation and the union’s resistance to it.
The agreement covers 29 Pacific Coast ports from California to Washington State, including the mammoth Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
"Both sides understand the strategic importance of the ports to the local, regional and U.S. economies, and are mindful of the need to finalize a new coast-wide contract as soon as possible," PMA and ILWU said in a joint statement. But, when the contract expired on Friday, so did its “no strike” clause.
On Friday, more than 150 business groups, including the Agricultural Transportation Coalition, the Meat Import Council of America, National Pork Producers Council and the North American Meat Institute, sent a letter to the White House asking the administration to get involved in hopes of ensuring a smooth resolution to negotiations. President Biden did meet with ILWU and PMA representatives in Los Angeles last month, and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh reportedly is in ongoing contact with both sides.
Meanwhile, shippers have been moving more cargo in and out of ports on the East Coast and Houston in case of a work stoppage on the Pacific Coast.
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