Biden acts to resolve US west coast port disruptions

Date: Tuesday, June 13, 2023
Source: Splash 24/7

President Joe Biden has acted, dispatching his labor secretary to California in a bid to thrash out a pay deal between employers and dockworkers amid an escalating ports crisis along the west coast of North America.

Sporadic walk-outs over the past 11 days have damaged productivity at many terminals in the US after unions, exasperated at 13-month long pay negotiations, decided to take action, a situation which has now worsened following news north of the border where members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada have voted overwhelmingly to proceed with a 72-hour strike at the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, industrial action which is likely to take place before the end of this month. Growing congestions south of the border, especially at the drought-hit Panama Canal, is also bringing concern to supply chain executives (see map below).

Following repeated calls to intervene from multiple American business organizations, the White House sent Julie Su, the administration’s acting labour secretary to California yesterday to hold talks with union members and the Pacific Maritime Association, the employers group. Su worked previously as secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

“The Biden administration needs a magic wand to untangle this situation in a New York minute. Batten down the hatches, for a long troublesome road ahead – unless the political sledgehammer gets deployed,” Peter Sand, chief analyst at Oslo-based freight rate platform Xeneta, commented via LinkedIn.

Biden can invoke the Taft-Hartley Act to force a resumption of normal port operations. The last president to do that was George W. Bush, who invoked that federal law in 2002 after port employers locked out union longshore workers.

The latest data from Danish box watchers eeSea shows comparatively minimal disruption.

“So far we have not seen any major deviations away from US ports – only one omission of Oakland. We see delays throughout the WC, but not more than what has become the norm over the past three years. And finally, congestion seems manageable still: Seattle and Tacoma are the only ports registering above 50% on our congestion meter,” an update from eeSea noted.


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