Shippers are becoming increasingly worried about the potential for a strike or work slowdown at major West Coast ports – to the point where some shipper groups are calling on both port labor and management groups to settle their differences.
The National Retail Federation, for one, is concerned that a strike or slowdown could cause major disruptions in commerce across the United States.
"Retailers heavily depend on the West Coast ports in shipping a wide variety of consumer goods, particularly from Asia," said NRF president & CEO Tracy Mullin. "Any disruption at the West Coast ports would have serious ramifications, not only to the U.S. retail industry and millions of American consumers, but also the entire U.S. economy."
Mullen added that with the retail industry and consumer spending largely propping up a fragile economy, this is a potential scenario that U.S. can ill afford.
Mullin's comments came in letters she sent to International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) president James Spinosa and Pacific Maritime Association (OMA) president & CEO Joseph N. Miniace. The ILWU represents West Coast dock workers while the PMA represents terminal operators. The current contract between the two organizations expires on July 1.
The ports covered by the contract include all those on the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii. Among them are the ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach and Seattle-Tacoma, two of the largest in the nation.
Another labor dispute at issue involves efforts to organize the 50,000 mostly independent truckers that haul freight to and from those ports. The Teamsters allied itself last year with the ILWU, the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) in an effort to organize port truck drivers across the U.S.