Key Topic – West Coast Port Congestion

West Coast Port Congestion – Longshoremen at 29 ports in California, Oregon and California have been working without a contract for more than nine months as negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) moved very slowly. These talks appeared to be progressing through the summer months, but turned contentious in October when PMA accused ILWU of orchestrating slowdowns, which led to severe port congestion. Backups in these ports began in the fall and worsened through December, January and early February, creating serious difficulties for exporters serving Asian markets – especially those trying to ship chilled beef and pork to Asia.

Negotiations were placed under the auspices of a federal mediator in early January, but progress toward a new contract remained slow. The White House announced Feb. 14 that U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez was being sent to California to try to bring contract negotiations to a close. USMEF welcomed this news, as the port labor impasse was severely hampering meat exporters’ ability to serve key Asian markets. Last year U.S. exporters shipped more than $2 billion in chilled beef and pork to Asia, and our customer base – which took many years to build – was placed in jeopardy by this impasse.

On the evening of Feb. 20, PMA and ILWU announced that they had reached a tentative contract agreement. This was great news not only for exporters, but for farmers, ranchers, processors and everyone in the supply chain. March export results reflected some improvement in port conditions, though a significant impact was still felt. Conditions further improved in April, with traffic returning to normal in most ports and congestion greatly reduced in Southern California.

Both parties ratified the five-year contract in late May.