By Paul Berger
Labor talks between West Coast dockworkers, cargo-handling companies and container shipping lines are entering a new, high-stakes phase with the expiration of the contract covering U.S. seaports from Washington state to Southern California.
With both sides remaining far apart on issues including pay and automation, the multiyear contract was due to end late in the day on Friday, raising fears over the potential for disruptions at major American gateways for trans-Pacific trade, including the country’s busiest container port complex at Los Angeles and Long Beach.
The congestion at those ports has been at the center of U.S. supply-chain snarls that have contributed to spikes in inflation and tied up retail and manufacturing inventories .
More recently the gridlock has eased, but a return to big backlogs at West Coast ports ahead of the peak holiday-shopping periods this fall would be disastrous for merchants. It would also be a blow to the Biden administration , as port congestion would push up shipping costs just as the government is trying to tame inflation running at a four-decade high.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 22,400 dockworkers at 29 ports, and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers and ocean carriers, met with President Biden in early June to discuss the talks. The two sides later released a joint statement saying they aren’t preparing for a strike or a lockout of workers.
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