East/Gulf Coast contract talks major concern for meat exporters

About 45% of U.S. waterborne pork exports go through the Gulf and East coasts, 25 to 30% on the beef side.

June 24, 2024

2 Min Read
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The International Longshoremen’s Association, which represents workers at ports throughout the East and Gulf Coasts, recently canceled contract talks with terminal operators represented by the United States Maritime Alliance. The current five-year labor contract between ILA and USMX expires Sept. 30, and negotiations on a new agreement had been set to open June 11. The impasse is over what ILA contends are efforts to automate additional port services, and the union says it will not return to the bargaining table until these issues are resolved. 

U.S. Meat Export Federation President and CEO Dan Halstrom explains why this is a growing concern for meat exporters and for all of U.S. agriculture.

"The five-year labor contract for the East Coast and Gulf Coast longshoremen is expiring this September, and it's disappointing that recently the negotiations have broken down. Sept. 30 sounds like a long way away, but for a complex agreement like this, we're definitely coming down to crunch time," Halstrom says. "While the West Coast ports are probably a little bit more critical to our business with all the Asian traffic, the East and Gulf ports are still critical as well for the rest of the world. About 45% of our waterborne pork exports go through the Gulf and East coasts, and I think it's around 25 or 30% on the beef side, so that is a significant portion of our business.

"While most of these products are frozen, going through the Gulf and East Coast, there is some chilled product, especially on the beef side, going into places like Europe and the Middle East and there's also beef and pork that goes into Central and South America out of the Gulf. Obviously chilled products are more time sensitive, which makes this even more urgent."

Unlike some past negotiations, the Longshoreman's union has said its members will not continue to move cargo past the September deadline.

"When the West Coast contract negotiations started in 2022, both parties agreed to continue even though they may not get it done by the deadline of the contract. There still was an agreement to work beyond the expiration of the contract," Halstrom says. "The situation we have now with the Gulf and the East Coast longshoremen is that recently they've made it very clear that they're only going to work up till the deadline of Sept. 30. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and they make some progress on this, but right now it's a real concern."

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