Due to uncertainty surrounding negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), sea ports on America's west coast are in crisis.
Cargo shipped through the west coast ports represents approximately 12.5 percent of the US GDP. Already straining under record cargo volumes, port congestion issues have steadily intensified since the expiration of the port labor contract, in June of 2014. During this time, RILA has been working diligently to address not only the acute issue of west coast labor uncertainty, but also the more long-term, systemic issues of port congestion nationwide.
The ultimatum delivered in PMA's press conference Wednesday afternoon was the latest development in a drawn-out negotiation that is approaching ten months. Work slowdowns, related fees and expenses, and lost business have already cost retailers millions of dollars, and without an agreement, experts have suggested that nearly 30 west coast ports could be shut down within a week. A complete shutdown would be catastrophic, with hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk if America's supply chain grinds to a halt. The last prolonged port shutdown of the West Coast ports was the 10-day lockout in 2002, which was estimated to cost the U.S. economy close to $1 billion a day.
Independently and as part of a coalition of industry groups in Washington, RILA has been advocating for greater attention and action on the negotiations by both Congress and the White House. These activities have led to officials speaking out on the need for an expedited resolution to negotiations, such as an October letter issued by six California members of the House of Representatives, and a November letter from all six Senators of the west coast states. The coalition's consistent messaging and urging has led to several individual statements from elected officials as well. Frequent outreach and letters to the White House have reiterated the need for urgent attention to the west coast situation. Continued lobbying efforts to the relevant oversight committees supported a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security on January 29, entitled "Improving the Performance of our Transportation Networks: Stakeholder Perspectives," at which RILA member Cabela's testified, and for which RILA submitted testimony for the record. Both stressed, among other things, the ongoing problem of port congestion and the economic costs of the current west coast labor uncertainty. RILA will also contribute to the Subcommittee's upcoming hearing "Keeping Goods Moving" on February 10. While all of these tactics are designed to raise awareness and a sense of urgency among lawmakers, RILA is also investigating the feasibility of possible longer-term solutions as well.
In addition to advocacy efforts on the Hill, RILA has repeatedly appealed directly to the negotiating parties, as well collaborating on several multi-industry letters at various stages of the negotiations.
On the larger issue of port congestion, RILA and its Ports working group have been pursuing a strategy designed to tackle the underlying congestion and productivity issues in US ports. The group has been holding a series of meetings with key stakeholders in the ports ecosystem, with the aim of improving strategic communication and identifying opportunities to mitigate some of the causes of congestion. Additionally, RILA has reached out to other industry groups in order to mount a broader initiative.
All eyes are on the west coast. RILA and other industry groups continue to push for immediate resolution to the long-running negotiations, in hopes of avoiding a shutdown that could have grievous effects on American retailers, other exporters and importers, and the U.S. economy at large.