Shipping containers at the Port of Seattle.
Patti Domm | CNBC
The labor strife continues on the west coast with the announcement of the Port of Seattle shutting down due to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) refusing to dispatch labor to work at the container terminals. This is according to an announcement by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) which represents the terminals at the ports.
The West Coast ports have faced continuous worker slowdowns and stoppages all week where an estimated $5.2 billion of trade is floating off the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland.
In an email statement, the ILWU said the union remains committed to bargaining a contract that is “fair and equitable and represents the hard work and contributions of its members toward the ongoing success of the multibillion-dollar shipping industry.”
The ILWU also accused the PMA of using the media to leverage one-sided information in an attempt to influence the process.
“Despite what you are hearing from PMA, West Coast ports are open as we continue to work under our expired collective bargaining agreement,” stated International President Willie Adams.
The Port of Seattle and its twin port, The Port of Tacoma, make up what is called the Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA). The Port of Seattle is one of the top maritime ports in North America that U.S. ag exporters rely on to ship their produce and grain. Some 40% of the State of Washington’s jobs are tied to trade.
Top trading partners were China, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and India in 2022.
Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC) which represents ag shippers tells CNBC these disruptions are exporters hurting the reputation of U.S. ag exporters as a reliable trading partner.
“When the ILWU-PMA negotiations broke down at the end of a previous contract, Japan’s Agriculture Ministry wrote our U.S. Dept of Agriculture, to the effect, ‘Your ports aren’t working but our cows are still eating.’ The impact of these West Coast disruptions is felt worldwide,” stressed Peter Friedmann, executive director of AgTC.
The top six U.S. exports according to the port’s website include apples (valued at $2.185 billion), milk, ($1.209 billion), cattle (valued at $801.5 million), wheat (valued at $756.8 million), potatoes, (valued at $712.4 million), and hay (valued at $601.7 million). The total value of the exports in 2022 was $5.66 billion.
The NWSA is the country’s second-largest gateway for refrigerated containers called, “reefers.” Frozen products like french fries, meat, dairy, apple, and fish are transported in these specialized containers.
“Our agriculture can’t stand by and can’t be stored on terminals,” said Friedmann. “We can’t continuously miss sailings and delivery commitments to overseas buyers.”
Friedmann said ag exporters, with very few exceptions, do not have the option to shift from West Coast gateways to the East and Gulf coasts. But he warned clients, foreign buyers do.
“They’re called Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand,” said Friedmann. “We don’t want to lose these customers.”
The NWSA is also a port importer of automobiles with a terminal dedicated to Roll-On and Roll-Off vessels. Auto imports were up 6.5% in 2022 compared to 2021, with 172,979 units delivered. Kia and Hyundai automobiles use this gateway.
CNBC reached out to the Port of Seattle and at the time of press does not have a comment.