Labor Chief Su Visits West Coast Port Talks

Acting Labor Secretary Meets With Both Sides, Attempting to Break Impasse
Trucks wait to enter the Port of Los Angeles
Trucks wait to enter the Port of Los Angeles on June 6. (Eric Thayer/Bloomberg News)

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su is in California for talks with West Coast port employers and the dockworkers’ union in an effort to break an impasse in a long-running contract negotiation.

During a meeting with Su June 12, the two sides shook hands on a cooling off period during which talks will continue without organized labor disruptions, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The unofficial agreement is expected to last a few days. 

Another person familiar with the negotiations said the cooling off period started the evening of June 12.

Su is encouraging ocean carriers and terminal operators, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union “to stay at the table and reach an agreement,” said Julie McClain Downey, assistant Labor secretary for public affairs. She did not elaborate on the status of the talks.

Ports up and down the West Coast have faced labor-related disruptions as contract talks have dragged on, resulting in delays and ocean shippers moving cargo to the East and Gulf Coasts. The prospect of a work stoppage could pose fresh supply chain headaches for President Joe Biden and the U.S. economy.

Su has previously been engaged in the talks, but her decision to travel to California to meet personally with the two sides represents an escalation in the administration’s involvement in the negotiations, which have lasted more than a year.

Julie Su

Su by Eric Lee/Bloomberg News 

Business groups and trade groups, including American Trucking Associations, have urged the Biden administration to directly intervene to break the stalemate, but the president and his team have been loath to impose an agreement and have instead said they prefer to let the collective bargaining process continue.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week in a letter to Biden warned a “serious work stoppage” at West Coast ports could cost the U.S. economy $1 billion per day and urged the president to appoint an “independent mediator” to help the parties reach a deal.

Su, who faces a tough confirmation fight in the Senate to become Biden’s permanent labor secretary, is from California and led the state’s labor department before entering the administration in 2021. She has relationships with labor and management representatives at the ports.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association said they were “encouraged” to see Su “directly engaged with negotiating parties at our nation’s West Coast ports.”

“We urge acting Labor Secretary Su to stay engaged until a resolution is reached that ensures the uninterrupted flow of goods and restores confidence in the West Coast ports as a reliable gateway for global commerce,” the group said in a statement.

— With assistance from Laura Curtis.

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info: