Threat of port strikes across North America has shippers on edge

The threat of port strikes across North America continues to send jitters across already stressed supply chains.

Canada’s Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) over the weekend ruled that a planned 72-hour strike against DP World in Canada went against the country’s labour code, narrowly averting a three-day shutdown this week.

The ILWU Ship & Dock Foremen Local 514 had given formal notice to its employer on Friday for action to start on Monday leading to a frantic weekend of negotiations and discussions to avoid a strike.

ILWU 514, which represents close to 600 workers, has been negotiating since November 2022 and is asking for wage increases and retirement benefits, among other demands.

Last year, British Columbia’s port workers went on strike in July over wages, benefits, and training issues.

Shippers still have to contend with the prospect of Canadian rail workers going on strike this month. Teamsters—which represent conductors, locomotive engineers, and yard workers at both CN Rail and Canadian Pacific Kansas City Limited – are readying strike action later this month.

South of the border, ports across the US have had to contend with plenty of industrial action too.

Last June, a deal was finally struck for a six-year labour contract at 29 US west coast ports, bringing to a close a fraught 13 months of stalled negotiations, walk-outs and cargoes emigrating to alternate locations.

While the US west coast now remains calm, elsewhere problems loom.

Dozens of US industry associations urged the White House last week to help restart stalled talks between east and Gulf coast dockworkers and port operators.

Earlier this month, contract negotiations broke down between the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and the US Maritime Alliance. The current agreement, which covers about 45,000 dockworkers at facilities including six of the 10 busiest US ports, expires September 30.

“With capacity already stretched thin by longer routes around Africa, additional delays and backlogs from an ILA strike, or, to a lesser extent, the looming Canadian rail strike possibly in July, would also put more or renewed pressure on ocean rates,” commented Judah Levine, head of research at Freightos, a box booking platform.