Large scale industry-wide labor disputes were in the news daily in early 2015. A West Coast port labor dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association has had a huge negative impact on logistics in the U.S.-Pacific trade. Container ships waited for days to load and unload at ports from Seattle to Southern California. The Longshoremen have been working without a contract since July 2014, but continuing work slowdowns have taken a toll on West Coast commerce since then. Manufacturers and shippers of agricultural products, seasonal merchandise, and just-in-time inventory were particularly hard hit. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez traveled to the West Coast on February 17 to broker a resolution. After Secretary Perez threatened to force the parties to come to Washington, D.C., the parties reached a tentative five-year collective bargaining agreement, but ratification by the employees is not expected until April, and the fallout continues. The Port of Portland, Oregon, has lost its largest ocean carrier line, which operated Asia-to-Portland routes, and is looking for new carriers to fill the void.
Shippers and other businesses on the Pacific, Gulf, and Atlantic coasts are looking for ways to reduce the risk of another labor dispute. The Longshoremen, no doubt, are finding increased leverage in negotiations with ports, given the increasing reliance of the U.S. economy on international trade and the large percentage of trade that its members handle.
Meanwhile, on the West and Gulf Coasts, the United Steelworkers are striking several major oil refineries, just when the price of oil has plummeted. At press time, the strike has gone on for three weeks with no end in sight and no intervention from the Obama Administration. So far, inventories of refined crude oil products are relatively high, helping to keep prices reasonable, which is good news for consumers. But the news for workers may not be as good: after several years of boom times, job losses in the industry are beginning to surge, making a strike an increasingly risky endeavor.