Risk Center

Work slowdowns threaten status quo amid ongoing negotiations

Ongoing negotiations between the ILWU and the PMA hit a flashpoint when port workers launched work slowdowns at the Port of Seattle-Tacoma and Oakland that impeded cargo-handling operations and prevented some terminal operators from working night shifts. At issue is a jurisdictional dispute between the ILWU and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) over maintenance and repair work at ports operated by SSA Marine (SSA). ILWU work slowdowns resulted in a reduction in productivity at the Port of Oakland.

While many hoped for a speedy resolution to this round of talks, the two sides seem further than ever from reaching an agreement. The ongoing dispute between the ILWU, SSA, and IAMAW has heightened tensions surrounding talks between the ILWU and the PMA. These new issues threaten to destabilize the informal peace that has been maintained throughout the negotiations so far. Further work slowdowns could force the PMA to lock out employees or use other retaliatory measures to ensure cargo flows.

Carriers are predicting that transpacific demand will slacken for the rest of 2022 due in part to shipper preordering earlier this year and inflation reducing consumer demand. Transpacific route capacity is expected to increase as carriers look to maintain routes that can absorb future changes in demand. Transpacific carriers will blank roughly as many sailings as they did in 2021, leaving plenty of vessels in service despite falling cargo volumes.

Waiting time trends

Waiting times at West Coast ports rose slightly due in part to increases at the Port of Vancouver. The Port of Los Angeles continued to see low waiting time averages, which highlight lower cargo levels at West Coast ports throughout 2022.

The Port of Seattle also reported low average wait times and waiting vessel counts. West Coast ports have the lowest combined waiting times as well as the lowest combined vessel counts for ports on any North American Coast.

On the U.S. East Coast, congestion levels have improved. The Port of Savannah reported a significant decrease in congestion, likely due to Hurricane Ian forcing the port to shut down vessel operations, with vessels that waited at anchor moving further out and thus not being included in the count for multiple days last week.

As vessel operations resumed at Port of Savannah on October 1, congestion levels will likely increase while the port works through the line-up of vessels and backlog of cargo.

The Port of New York-New Jersey also saw waiting times and vessel counts fall to slightly higher than average for the previous quarter.

The overall congestion picture also improved on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Average waiting times fell at the Port of Mobile, although the average is still higher than the previous quarter’s average. Waits at the Port of Houston slightly decreased, but still an increase compared to the previous quarter’s average.

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