Containers unloaded at Port of Long Beach
Containers are unloaded at the Port of Long Beach. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The National Retail Federation on Monday called on President Biden to intervene in West Coast port labor negotiations after the largest terminal at the Port of Long Beach closed amid a standoff with dockworkers who are rallying for better pay.

Long Beach is the second-busiest U.S. container terminal and a key driver of economic activity. Monday’s closure followed similar disruptions on Friday in Oakland.

More than 22,000 dockworkers at ports stretching from California to Washington state have been working without a contract since July. Contract talks are in the final stretch, but frustrations are running high after more than a year at the negotiating table.

“We urge the (Biden) administration to mediate to ensure the parties quickly finalize a new contract without additional disruptions,” said David French, the retail group’s senior vice president of government relations. That industry accounts for about half of the volume at the nation’s container ports and is gearing up for back-to-school, Christmas and key sales events.

The Port of Long Beach’s Total Terminals International canceled appointments on Monday. That facility is majority owned by container shipping giant Mediterranean Shipping Company.

Representatives from Total Terminals and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing some 22,000 West Coast dockworkers, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Total Terminals decided to close on Monday “based on its own operational needs,” said port spokesperson Lee Peterson, who added that the port’s other terminals were operating and that cargo was moving.

Pacific Container Terminal, owned by SSA Marine, was closed on Monday for normal operational reasons having nothing to do with labor, terminal general manager Randy Galosic told Reuters.

Terminals at the other major California ports in Los Angeles and Oakland were open on Monday, representatives for those ports said.

On Friday, Southern California’s ILWU Local 13 that represents roughly 12,000 longshoremen in Los Angeles and Long Beach said its rank-and-file union members “had taken it upon themselves to voice their displeasure with the ocean carriers’ and terminal operators’ position.”

ILWU said workers were vital to keeping goods moving during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and want to be compensated for putting their lives at risk during that time, when ocean carriers were reaping record profits.