LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Clogged ports along the US West Coast were closed to cargo freighters for the third time in a week on Friday night, and shippers vowed to keep a partial shutdown in effect through Monday barring a settlement in labor talks with the dockworkers’ union.
The latest halt in loading and unloading of container ships at the 29 ports came as contract talks between union negotiators and management’s bargaining agent, the Pacific Maritime Association, appeared to reach a critical juncture.
The federal mediator who has sought for weeks to broker a deal called on Friday for a 48-hour news blackout after meeting with both parties together, and then separately, union and management representatives told Reuters.
The two sides said they would abide by the mediator’s request. The development followed a bargaining session on Thursday, the parties’ first face-to-face meeting in nearly a week, that failed to produce an accord.
The PMA has said the talks, which have dragged on for nine months, hit a new snag over a demand by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union for changes in the system of binding arbitration of contract disputes.
The 20,000 dockworkers represented by the union have been without a contract since July.
In the meantime, inbound cargo vessels continued to stack up at anchor, with 27 freighters left idle on Friday morning waiting for a berth outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s two busiest cargo hubs.
The numbers are likely to grow by the end of the weekend as additional vessels arrive from Asia with no place to park at the docks.
The West Coast ports were not left entirely dormant. The companies said work will continue in the dockyards, rail yards and terminal gates as they seek to clear some of the cargo containers already stacked up on the waterfronts.
The affected ports handle nearly half of all US maritime trade and more than 70 per cent of imports from Asia.
Disruptions at those harbors have rippled through the US commercial supply chain, slowing deliveries of a wide range of goods, from agricultural produce to housewares and apparel.