by Ken Root & Whitney Flach
There was a dock worker strike on the West Coast in 2014. It had a devastating impact on container freight coming into the U.S. and on the many high value products, which were delayed in export. The settlement of the strike put things back on track, but the future is uncertain as to whether such a slowdown could happen again. The next one, could impact more agricultural commodities.
Labor Unions are loved by some, and despised by others. The workers under contract at West Coast ports, are key to getting shipments in and out of this country.
The current contract runs out in 2019, so agricultural and trade groups are working to extend it to bring back our reputation for dependability in the marketplace.
Mike Steenhoek is executive Director of the Soy Transportation Coalition based in Des Moines. He spoke to me about the past strike settlement and what the Longshoremen’s Union wants in a future contract (Mike Steenhoek Expanded Interview.) “One of the big looming issues is the whole movement and evolution towards automation at our ports. The most productive ports around the world are ones that have embraced automation,” Steenhoek says. He continues on by saying, “It is something that has to be resolved. It is a reality. We don’t want to see anyone loose their jobs, but that is one of the realities of disruptive technology, not only in the 21st century but it’s been with us for a number of years.
Steenhoek says an effort is underway to extend the current contract well past 2019. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union are having a meeting August 10-12. This issue will be something they discuss.