The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach effectively shut down last Thursday evening through Friday due to a worker shortage. Port and labor representatives offered differing analysis of the causes behind the stoppage, but that it comes during protracted labor negotiations has raised some eyebrows.

The Shutdown

Late Thursday, April 6, terminals at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach closed due to a lack of workers during the evening shift. The closures continued through Friday, with operations resuming on Saturday.

  • Statements from port management suggest the staffing issues took them by surprise as well.

Both International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 13, representing port workers, and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), representing employers, have issued statements on the incident.

“On the evening of Thursday, April 6, ILWU Local 13 held its monthly membership meeting as is its contractual right,” ILWU Local 13’s statement read. “Several thousand union members attend the monthly meeting. On Friday, April 7, union members who observe religious holidays took the opportunity to celebrate with their families.

“Cargo operations are ongoing as longshore workers at the Ports remain on the job.”

The PMA’s press release reflects its view on what happened. It reads, “The largest ILWU local on the West Coast has taken a concerted action to withhold labor at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, resulting in widespread worker shortages.

“The action by the Union has effectively shut down the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – the largest gateway for maritime trade in the United States.”

The Promo Perspective

Labor negotiations between the ILWU and PMA have entered their 11th month. They began in May 2022 and affect 22,000 dockworkers at 29 ports from California to Washington.

  • The contract negotiations cover wages, working conditions and several other issues.
  • Dockworkers have been without a contract since July 2022.

The discussions appear to have stalled. Last month, PPAI joined with several other industry groups in a call for the Biden administration to become more involved in the discussion toward its resolution.

For importers in the promotional products industry, last week’s incident is another chapter in the lengthy, ongoing labor dispute and the uncertainty that surrounds it. For most, the best case is to remain flexible.

The winners in the dispute have been ports on the Gulf and East coasts, who saw their traffic pick up during the West Coast port backups in 2021 and 2022. With potential labor action on the West Coast, shippers continue to have favorable views of the Gulf and East coasts. As shipping services and infrastructure builds up around these ports, promotional products companies should expect some degree of this shift to be permanent.