LOS ANGELES -- The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have closed due to widespread worker shortages apparently linked to ongoing contract talks.
Unions representing workers at the two ports are in talks for a new contract.
The ILWU Local 13 withheld workers from their shifts starting Thursday evening, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping employers on the West Coast.
"The action by the Union has effectively shut down the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach - the largest gateway for maritime trade in the United States," the PMA said.
The union, however, released a statement making no mention of any formal work action.
The organization said Thursday several thousand members were in attendance at the organization's regular monthly meeting, at which a new president was sworn in. It said on Friday many members were observing religious holidays with their families.
"On Friday, April 7, 2023, union members who observe religious holidays took the opportunity to celebrate with their families," read a statement from ILWU. "Cargo operations are ongoing as longshore workers at the Ports remain on the job."
Port officials and shippers, however, believe the absences are a deliberate, if unspoken, message from the union to put pressure on the talks.
The closures come as cargo volumes have already dropped from peak levels a year ago.
The union has been working without a new contract since July.
Trade experts say some shippers have already started diverting cargo traffic away from the two ports.
"A lot of the cargo has been shifted away from the West Coast ports, into the middle of our country and the East Coast," said Nick Vyas, executive director of the Kendrick Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Southern California. "So we have a seen a significant drop in volume at our West Coast ports, which is not a good sign."
He noted that some 40% of the foreign goods arriving to the United States are processed through the two ports.
The Port of Los Angeles released a statement saying it is continuing to communicate with the ILWU and the PMA to support a return to normal operations.
"Resuming cargo operations at America's busiest port complex is critical to maintaining confidence to our customers and supply chain stakeholders," Port of Los Angeles officials said.
Port officials remain optimistic that operations will resume Saturday.
Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero released a statement: "Four of the Port's container terminals are closed for the day, today, April 7. Terminal operators at the affected sites said they made the decision to close when workers did not report for their shifts this morning. We have no further information as to the situation, but it is expected that normal, regularly scheduled hours and operations will resume tomorrow."