(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden should stay engaged in the labor negotiations for more than 22,000 West Coast dockworkers to avoid disruptions in port operations after their current contract expires July 1, a coalition of 150 trade groups said.
Expiration of the contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the more than 70 employers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association covering dockworkers across 29 ports in California, Oregon and Washington risks opening the door to strikes, lockouts or work stoppages.
Both parties have said they will remain at the negotiating table after the expiration and reaffirmed neither side foresees trade disruptions.
Still, industry leaders are wary that an impasse in the talks would result in a work stoppage during the busiest time of year for American ports, one that would snarl already tenuous US supply chains.
The White House should work with the parties to extend the current contract until a final deal is reached, ensure commitments to remain at the negotiating table and not engage in any kind of activity that leads to further disruption at the ports, the group led by the National Retail Federation said in a letter to the president Friday.
“An immediate extension of the current contract is just as important and will provide assurance to the millions of businesses, workers and consumers who rely on the West Coast ports,” the retail group said. As these hubs enter peak shipping season, resulting in stress on the supply chain and increased inflation, “supply-chain stakeholders remain concerned about the potential for disruption, especially without a contract or an extension in place.”
Biden, who has pledged to be the most pro-union president in US history, has directed Cabinet members and supply-chain experts to smooth negotiations in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the months-long disruptions that followed the 2014 labor dispute. He met with the parties during a recent trip to the Port of Los Angeles, the first time a sitting president did so during an ongoing negotiation.
At stake in the talks is no less than the recovery of the world’s largest economy, already contending with the most pernicious inflation in four decades, shortages of products ranging from baby formula to air-conditioner parts, and growing fears that another shock could tip the country into a recession.
Even before the talks started, industry groups and politicians began warning the White House that it should engage in the talks to ensure the needs of both workers and the ports are met and further backups, delays and inflationary costs are avoided.
On Thursday, a group of 20 congressional Democrats sent a letter to the union and its employers urging them to “work in good faith.”
If there are difficulties at West Coast ports, Biden could be forced to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act, a Cold War-era law that allows the government to call for an 80-day cool-down period amid labor impasses.
In 2002, President George W. Bush relied on the legislation to reopen the ports, after the PMA locked out workers for 10 days following a series of work slowdowns. When the ILWU carried out the longest strike in US longshore history for 130 days in 1972, Richard Nixon did the same.
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