Business groups urge Biden to help resolve labor dispute at West Coast ports

Retail, footwear and travel goods groups on Wednesday urged President Biden to facilitate a contract agreement between West Coast dockworkers and maritime shipping companies to prevent further port disruptions.

The current contract between shippers and 22,000 West Coast port workers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is set to expire July 1, setting the stage for a potential work stoppage that would ravage the nation’s fragile supply chains.

“We urge you to encourage both parties to remain at the table until an agreement is finalized because even a relatively brief port slowdown or shutdown would compound current supply chain challenges and cause long-lasting damage to consumer confidence and American businesses,” the Retail Industry Leaders Association, American Apparel and Footwear Association and Travel Goods Association wrote in a joint letter to the White House.

Maritime shippers and trucking companies have struggled to accommodate a surge in demand for imported goods this year amid staffing shortages, creating bottlenecks at US ports that drive up costs for consumers.

West Coast ports, which receive roughly 60 percent of US imports from Asia, are anticipating more congestion as ships that were stranded outside of Shanghai during China’s COVID-19 lockdowns return to the US

Both the dockworkers’ union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the shipping companies, have said they want to avoid a work stoppage at all costs. But dockworkers are opposed to maritime shippers’ proposal to increase the use of automation at ports to speed up cargo processing, creating an impasse.

The dispute is on the White House’s radar as Biden attempts to unclog supply chains and slow inflation. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told Bloomberg last month that Biden officials “do not need to get involved in this negotiation unless we have to,” an approach previous administrations have taken.

“A work slowdown or stoppage later this year would exacerbate global supply chain disruptions that are a significant cause of high inflation and economic uncertainty. We must avoid this outcome, ”Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) Wrote in a letter to the two parties last month.

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