Gain instant visibility to your terminals with OpenTrack Port Performance: 

West Coast Recap: What’s Happening with the ILWU?

December 8, 2023

It’s been a big year for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, or ILWU. After months of negotiations, a deal has finally been reached on the U.S. West Coast. In addition to a tentative agreement between the U.S. ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, the Canadian branch of the ILWU came to a tentative agreement with the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association, or BCMEA, on July 13, ending a nearly two week strike. 

With U.S. and Canadian ILWU negotiations over, we’re digging into how these conflicts played out, and the ways that smart shippers are leveraging intermodal container tracking, integrated exception alerts, and API optimization to bolster resilience in a difficult labor landscape. 

On the U.S. West Coast, Shippers Worst Fears are Averted

Throughout 2022 and the early months of 2023, shippers were eyeing the U.S. West Coast with a nervous eye as negotiations between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, or PMA, sputtered and stalled. Union members felt that working conditions and compensation had been inadequate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and, among other demands, wanted additional compensation for having faced hazardous working conditions at a pivotal moment for the global supply chain and economy. During the pandemic, the ILWU claimed in a June 2 press release, “PMA member carriers and terminal operators made historic profits of $510 billion during the pandemic.  In some cases, profits jumped nearly 1000%.  Even as shipping volumes return to normal in 2023, PMA members have continued to post revenues that far exceed pre-pandemic times by billions of dollars.”

Following notable work stoppages in early April, the ILWU and the PMA returned to the negotiating table with a renewed urgency. By mid-June, a tentative deal for a new 6-year contract had been reached. This new deal saw significant wins for the ILWU, including: 

  • Improved Healthcare Benefits
  • Improved Retirement Benefits
  • A 30% Salary Increase

With this tentative deal, the U.S. avoided the chaos of a peak-season strike, which would likely have had a far-reaching impact upon the economy. Following the announcement of the tentative agreement, the Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su, who played a significant role in the negotiations between the ILWU and the PMA, said in a June 14 press release, “Thanks to the hard work and perseverance of the leadership of the ILWU and the PMA, the tentative agreement delivers important stability for workers, for employers and for our country’s supply chain. This important milestone is welcome news to all, and on behalf of President Biden, we are pleased to congratulate both parties on what they have achieved.”

While the ILWU may have reached a tentative agreement with the PMA on the U.S. West Coast before a strike, negotiations were a bit bumpier in Canada, where the Canadian branch of the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union went on strike following a breakdown in negotiations with the BCMEA.

After Nearly Two Weeks of Strike, A Deal is Reached on Canada’s West Coast

Following a tumultuous negotiating period, ILWU Canada–the Canadian branch of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union–began their strike on July 1, 2023. Among the demands of ILWU Canada were protections against contracting out integral maintenance responsibilities within the port, as well as guaranteed wage increases to keep up with the rapid pace of inflation in Canada. The strike, which was contained to British Columbia, affected roughly 7,400 terminal cargo loaders and 49 of the province’s port and waterfront employers, according to reporting from the CBC

Following nearly two weeks of strike, as well as calls from some prominent North American trade associations to recall the Canadian parliament in order to pressure the two parties to come to an agreement, ILWU Canada and the BCMEA came to an agreement on the morning of July 13. Although the deal remains unratified, many in Canada’s business community are breathing a sigh of relief at the end of the strike, which was estimated to be affecting over half of Canada’s small business owners, according to Reuters

“The scale of this disruption has been significant. The extent of it has shown just how important the relationship between industry and labour is to our national interest,” Canadian Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a July 13 joint statement. “Our supply chains and our economy depend on it. We do not want to be back here again. Deals like this, made between parties at the collective bargaining table, are the best way to prevent that.”

As Strike Fears Persist, Shippers Require Resilience

While shippers are sure to be relieved with the resolution of both the Canadian and U.S. ILWU labor negotiations, it’s only a matter of time until the next strike threatens the global supply chain. Often, strikes come with major consequences for shippers, including:

  • Disruptions and Delays: With workers on strike, shippers can find themselves unable to move goods within the port. This can result in lengthy delays and service disruptions. 
  • Increased Transportation Costs: As shipments languish at port, shippers quickly begin incurring hefty port charges. Once a strike is resolved, shippers are then on the hook for expedited shipping costs as they attempt to make up for lost time. 
  • Damaged Customer Relationships: As operating costs rise and delays increase, customers become frustrated with disrupted service. While some customers may be sympathetic to a company navigating a strike, others may not be so patient and seek other options. 

Whether at home or abroad, labor strikes can spell disaster for shippers. By turning to innovative solutions to enhance resilience, shippers can enter turbulent labor waters with confidence. 

Intermodal Container Tracking

When a strike happens, the first thing a shipper needs is visibility. Without an accurate understanding of where all containers are within the transportation process, it’s impossible for shippers to adequately navigate an unexpected labor crisis. 

With real-time ocean container tracking, shippers can ensure instant access to accurate container location, meaning that they can seamlessly redirect containers around strikes and provide customers with a more accurate understanding of the precise location of delayed shipments. 

Integrated Exception Alerts

While coverage of high-profile labor issues may offer shippers some awareness of a developing strike, the labor disruptions that precede a strike–like those we saw on the West Coast of the U.S. in 2023–are often planned to intentionally catch shippers off-guard. When these disruptions occur, shippers are often left in the dark on the status of high-stakes shipments disrupted by labor issues.

Integrated exception alerts, delivered through a streamlined, platform-agnostic container tracking platform, ensure that shippers are instantly notified the moment a disruption occurs. Beyond the initial disruption, integrated exception alerts notify shippers of the events that often follow a labor disruption, including blank sailing and rolled cargo alerts, delay notifications, and demurrage and detention alerts. 

API Optimization

Smart shippers know that technology is only as useful as it is accessible. Without a streamlined, cloud-based platform to access the latest container tracking notifications and information, shippers can find themselves isolated from high-stakes shipments. In a fast-moving labor crisis, the risk of poor access to information is too much for shippers to bear.

With streamlined API integration, shippers can instantly access must-know information about their high-stakes container shipments anytime, anywhere. Cloud-based, platform-agnostic API ensures that nothing stands between shippers and unparalleled insight into their transportation operations. 

In a Dynamic Labor Environment, Shippers Turn to OpenTrack for Unprecedented Reliability

While the latest strike threat on the North American West Coast may be averted, it’s only a matter of time until a new threat emerges in a volatile ocean freight industry. By investing in container tracking, integrated exception alerts, and cloud-based API now, shippers can avoid chaos when the next disruption occurs. With OpenTrack, shippers gain instant access to the tools they need to navigate any labor crisis with confidence. 

  • Intermodal Container Tracking ensures real-time visibility for real-world labor crises.
  • Integrated Exception Alerts mean that shippers can stay up-to-date with the latest labor developments.
  • API Optimization helps shippers integrate vital visibility into their daily operations. 

Book a demo with OpenTrack today, and see what the latest in ocean freight visibility can do for your business.

Book a Demo

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Please check all fields are complete

Get started and see how the OpenTrack software has helped 100’s of companies with their Logistics.