Labor trouble at Port of Oakland, concerns of strike

Negotiations between the port workers union and the companies that employ them have gone on for 13 months with no wage agreement in sight. The port is one of the Bay Area's biggest economic engines, directly supporting 38,000 jobs, and a strike may occur.

For more than a year, the longshoremen's union has been in unfruitful negotiations with the shipping lines and terminal operators. Last November, union members picketed over the lack of progress with an industry that made hundreds of billions of extra dollars from inflationary, sky-high pandemic shipping rates. 

"We've been faithfully working, even through the pandemic, without any stoppage," said longshoreman Keith Shanklin.

The ship operators, cargo terminals and union agreed to a "no strikes and no lockouts" pledge. They've even agreed to not talk to the news media about issues that deeply impact the U.S. and world economy.

However, on Tuesday the union released a statement in response to a raise it calls insulting: 

"We aren't going to settle for an economic package that doesn't recognize the heroic efforts and personal sacrifices of the workforce that lifted the shipping industry to record profits," said the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.


Striking without a contract is not illegal, but President Biden could invoke a return to work cooling-off law. This week alone, there have been work slowdowns and stoppages at the ports of Oakland, Los Angeles., Long Beach and Seattle. 

A number of sources, asking not to be identified, told KTVU that they've heard that a strike could come as early as Monday.

Terminals have reduced the number of union workers needed. A backup of moored, anchored or delayed ships circling out at sea is building at West Coast Ports. 

Truckers are caught in the middle of that fight and anxiously awaiting delivery customers. 

"Cargo is delayed. Customers are looking for their cargo, and we can't get to them yet," said AB Trucking owner Bill Aboudi.

Worker anger is building too. 

"Just from the street level, talking to the workforce, they're fed up. They want a contract. They want to get on with life, and it's dragging too long, and we feel that tension building up," said Aboudi.

Experts tell KTVU, this standoff can't go on forever, mutual pledges notwithstanding. A strike or lockout could quickly snarl the supply chain, and re-energize inflation; an ugly outcome.