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The Ongoing Struggle between Longshore Unions and Port Terminals


Tensions between longshore unions and terminal operators have been escalating in North America while struggles in Canada, the Southeast, and the West Coast threaten disruptions in the coming months.

In a year ripe with slowdowns and logistic challenges, the tensions between longshore unions and port terminal operators could possibly pile on more complications in the near future. Here are three disputes that businesses should be aware of and monitor to anticipate any shipping disruptions.

Major Labor and Port Conflicts in the Comi6.ng Year

The labor strike at the Port of Montreal ended on May 1, 2021, as a result of the passage of back-to-work legislation that was introduced by Canada’s Minister of Labour. After months of small disruptions, on April 26th the conflict escalated to a strike of 1,000 dockworkers. Union workers have been without a contract since 2018 and have been disputing work schedules for months.

While the strike ended due to government intervention, substantial damage was nonetheless done to the port’s business. Specifically, in March there was a 10% year-over-year decline in throughput, which is particularly notable as this was a time that other North American ports were surging.

At the same time, the Southeast is experiencing “the most significant longshore labor conflict on the East Coast in years.” This dispute is centered around a hybrid work system where non-union state employees operate yard equipment and cranes. This is not a new issue, but it has come to the forefront since the opening of the Hugh Leatherman Terminal in Charleston.

The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) argues that all crane and yard equipment jobs at the new terminal should be unionized pursuant to the current ILA and United States Maritime Association (USMX) contract. However, the USMX asserts that since the port was permitted and under construction before that contract was in place, it does not apply.

A preliminary National Labor Relations Board ruling found in favor of the port, but the ILA has filed a lawsuit against shipping companies that have used the port, alleging contract violations.

The West Coast is not immune from these conflicts either. It has seen labor disruptions during all previous contract negotiations over the last 30 years. The current contract expires on July 1, 2022, and conflicts over termination automation are extremely likely to lead to disruptions.

Stay Informed to Avoid Major Disruptions

While tensions between longshore unions and port terminals are not new, there are currently escalating conflicts impacting major ports throughout North America. It is key to monitor these conflicts and to have a plan in place to deal with any major slowdowns.

Running a business is hard enough, add in managing a supply chain while keeping up with industry news and you have a nearly impossible task. That’s why it’s important to partner with a reliable logistics company who can not only help manage your supply chain but keep you up to date with news that could affect your supply chain.

At Clear Freight, our team stays updated on all current events and is ready to provide logistical solutions and advice to support your supply chain. Contact us today to create a solution for your businesses’ most complex logistical needs.

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