With contract negotiations set to begin May 12 between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the Retail Industry Leaders Association sent a letter to the presidents of both organizations urging them to take all necessary steps to avoid costly work stoppages and strikes stemming from a protracted labor dispute and secure a contract before the expiration of the current agreement on June 30.

The letter, addressed to James McKenna, president of PMA, and Robert McEllrath, president of the ILWU, stressed the importance of preserving the reliability of the West Coast ports and the role they play as important channels in retail supply chains.

“With the expiration of the current contract a mere eight weeks away and recognizing that there are a number of challenging issues that need to be addressed, retailers remain hopeful that a new long-term agreement can be reached before the deadline,” RILA president Sandy Kennedy wrote in the letter.

As some of the largest users of the global supply chain, retailers rely on efficient transportation systems across a variety of channels, and disruptions at any point of the system can have lasting, negative impacts on the industry and its ability to get goods to consumers, RILA noted. Ports play an especially key role in this process as the transportation hubs where products are moved from ship to shore and sent out by truck and rail to stores and distribution centers.

“Many retailers have taken stock of the uncertain labor situation at the West Coast ports and have implemented contingency plans to preserve the reliability of their supply chains,” Kennedy wrote. “Some of our members advise that they are beginning to reroute shipments through other channels.

Kennedy added that RILA encourages both sides “to engage in a productive, honest dialogue and move with haste toward a long-term solution. Securing an agreement to prevent strikes and work stoppages is of paramount importance to the retail industry.”

Nearly 13,600 ILWU workers are employed at West Coast ports, through which 1 million tons of cargo pass through each day.

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