Things look as if they’re almost back to normal at the West Coast ports at the heart of the great supply-chain disruption that began rolling across the U.S. last year. But a new wave of disruption might soon come crashing down. While the ill effects of Covid have dissipated, the ports’ increasing need for automation to stay competitive has sharpened the labor strife that has long afflicted them.
On Friday the collective-bargaining agreement covering longshore labor along the West Coast expires, and with it the contract’s “no strike” clause. This will allow 22,400 dockworkers to walk off the job at any time until a new contract is ratified. Negotiations began in May and could take months. A strike would shut down 29 ports, including the adjacent Los Angeles and Long Beach complex, which handles 47% of containerized imports from China and other Asian manufacturing centers.