The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) hold an immense amount of power when it comes to supply chains in the United States. These dockworker unions can bring cargo to a complete halt and any disruption in the flow of cargo at terminals can have severe consequences for beneficial cargo owners. Dockworkers are responsible for the flow of goods from the cargo ships, to the terminals, to the final consignee and without their work cargo will not move.
In February of this year a local ILA representative from South Carolina called for a coast wide work stoppage to protest the government’s involvement in the industry. The plan was for members from all East and Gulf Coast ports to meet in Washington for a march. This work stoppage would have been in violation of the ILA contract and top leadership did not support the strike. The work stoppage never came to fruition but the risk of this type of event is a real concern for all stakeholders.
The ILA, representing East Coast dockworkers is currently in the beginning stages of negotiating a new contract with their employers who are represented by the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX). The current contract expires on September 30, 2018. The ILWU, representing West Coast dockworkers has a contract that expires on July 1, 2019.
It is estimated that for every day a port is shut down it takes six days to recover. It is important that cargo owners have plans in place with their transportation providers in the event that a port shutdown becomes a reality. It has happened in the past and is certainly a real threat for the future especially on the East Coast as negotiations are beginning for the new contract. As shown earlier this year, local representatives are not being shy about the needs of the dockworkers and are willing to organize work stoppages accordingly.