April Shipping Update: ILWU Shutdown at California Ports

As we have reported previously in another shipping update, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents dockworkers, has been involved in so-far-unsuccessful contract negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), the group that represents shipping companies. The debate has been ongoing for months, but it just came to a head this month when the ILWU shutdown closed the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

What got us here? And where will these actions take the shipping industry next?

The Situation: ILWU Shutdown on April 6

On April 6, 2023, at 5 pm local time, some ILWU members did not accept their work assignments for that evening’s second shift at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The members were crane operators and top handler drivers, so their departure resulted in a complete shutdown of the ports. All terminals canceled operations related to the vessels, rails, yards, and gates. Even if some employees chose to show up, they were sent home due to the low complement of workers.

The ILWU had a different take on the reduced workforce that day, saying that members were either attending the union’s monthly meeting or observing Good Friday. Historically, limited operations often occur during the Easter holiday weekend, so it may have not seemed to them to be noteworthy.

The ports remained closed overnight, but as of Saturday, operations were back to normal. The disruption resulted in delays in pulling containers from vessels and returning empty vessels, the latter of which was accompanied by additional fees.

The Back Story: Previous Stoppages and Contract Disputes

The previous contract between the ILWU and the PMA ended July 1, 2022, leaving 22,000 dockworkers on the West Coast without an agreement for nearly a year. The only reason work continues is because of a pledge undertaken by the union, which promised no stoppages.

But there have been other stoppages over the course of the last year. World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) reported that in March of this year, work stopped at the Port of Los Angeles for one hour when all employees took lunch at the same time. Likewise, the Port of Oakland encountered issues at three terminals over payroll disputes.

Reports have shared that some dockworkers aren’t even sure of the situation at the ports from moment to moment and are eager to come to some conclusion to receive fair pay for the work they provide.

The Future: How the Shipping Industry Is Responding

As reported previously here on Cyclone Shipping, several shippers have started diverting their shipments away from the West Coast to ports on the Eastern Seaboard due to the possibility of a future ILWU shutdown. For many, the costs and potential delays of rerouting far outweigh the hassle that could happen should California ports completely shut down.

Unfortunately, the potential for a work stoppage isn’t limited to only the West Coast of the US. WSWS reported a previous strike in the UK and the potential for another in France next week. Granted, they don’t all have the same origin story, but the results can all be disastrous for the shipping industry.

Stay Informed about Potential ILWU Shutdown Issues

When global shipments are delayed, companies and customers get antsy—and with good reason. You as a business owner expect your items to get to their intended destinations on time. Your customers likewise expect to receive their orders in a timely manner. That’s why it’s so important to work with a freight forwarder who will ensure your shipments are handled by taking that headache off your plate. Connect with us at Cyclone Shipping to learn more about how we can support your team.