Almost all of the dockworkers who work at all the ports on the West Coast are unionized under one union (the SF-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union). The union negotiates a single contract that lasts a number of years with the also SF-based Pacific Maritime Association which represents all the ports. This contract covers 20,000 works at 29 ports along the West Coast.

The current contract was signed in 2008 and expires on June 30th. Both sides are in negotiations about the new contract, but it's expected to continue past June 30th (both sides have acknowledged this and have agreed to keep working on it past that date).

Folks in the shipping industry get concerned around contract negotiation time because work stoppages create severe disruptions in shipping because all of the West coast ports get affected. In 2013, 44% of shipping containers that entered the US came through West Coast ports [source].

In the past...

Here's what happened in the contract negotiation period in 2002:

"In 2002, negotiators didn't reach an agreement until around Thanksgiving, following an impasse that led to a 10-day lockout and a big disruption in trade. [...]

Twelve years ago, the shutdown had a lasting impact on how products moved in and out of the United States. Hulking cranes idled. Ships anchored in San Francisco Bay and outside ports from Los Angeles to Seattle. Economists estimated the impact at $1 billion each day.

Even after trade resumed, retailers — with their just-in-time supply chain — worried that West Coast ports risked becoming a bottleneck. Companies looked to Gulf Coast and East Coast ports, which courted them by upgrading facilities." [source]

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