Supply chain crisis collides with CA port labor talks


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Plan to buy something online in the next few months? Then you have a stake in high-intensity negotiations set to begin Tuesday between 22,000 dockworkers and the shipping companies that do business at 29 West Coast ports accounting for nearly 9% of the United States’ gross domestic product.

The talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association — slated to take place in San Francisco — come as U.S. ports are just beginning to recover from a pandemic-induced supply chain crunch that resulted in massive backlogs of ships and goods and skyrocketing inflation rates.

But progress hinges on contract negotiations going smoothly: “If anything further disrupts the supply chain it will be devastating,” said Jim McKenna, president and CEO of the Pacific Maritime Association.

  • The contract between the dockworkers’ union and shipping companies is set to expire July 1, and although talks are expected to extend past that date, lead negotiators on both sides said they’re heading into the conversation on good terms.
  • Nevertheless, signs of conflict cropped up last week, when the Pacific Maritime Association, representing the shipping companies, released a self-commissioned study that found automated terminals at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports had higher efficiency, lower greenhouse-gas emissions and better work opportunities than non-automated terminals.
  • Frank Ponce De Leon, speaking for union workers at the ports: “It’s apparent that the report is a self-serving document by one party to a labor contract, and even worse is an insult to all workers who have seen their jobs outsourced to machines. … We haven’t seen an overall increase in productivity at the ports, just a shell game to mask the human cost of job destruction.”

But those aren’t the only labor negotiations to keep an eye on:

  • A bill freeing up swaths of land for affordable housing could be in jeopardy because of a fight between labor unions. The bill is backed by the California Conference of Carpenters but fiercely opposed by the powerful State Building and Construction Trades Council — creating a tough political calculus for lawmakers who may have to decide which facet of organized labor will cause them the most pain during an important election year, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports.
  • Labor groups — including the State Building and Construction Trades Council — are mobilizing against efforts from both Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and state lawmakers to limit freeway expansions, particularly in poor communities of color, the Los Angeles Times reports.
  • About 55,000 Los Angeles County workers overwhelmingly voted Friday to authorize their union to call an unfair labor practice strike if it can’t reach agreement on a new contract with the county.
  • And hundreds of health care workers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center are preparing to launch a five-day strike today, accusing the Los Angeles hospital of unfair labor practices.

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1. Keep an eye out for mail-in ballots

A California mail-in ballot in a mailbox. Photo illustration by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Today marks the last day for county elections officials to begin sending out mail-in ballots for California’s June 7 primary election — and every registered voter will receive one, thanks to a law Newsom signed last year to make permanent an elections process adopted during the pandemic. You have several different options for returning your mail-in ballot, and can also choose to vote in person. For more information — and answers to all other voting-related questions — make sure to check out the Voting FAQ section of CalMatters’ comprehensive Voter Guide.

In addition to the statewide, congressional and state legislative seats on the ballot, voters in Los Angeles and San Francisco are also gearing up for high-profile, nationally watched races on June 7.

  • A slew of candidates, led by frontrunners Rep. Karen Bass and billionaire developer Rick Caruso, are duking it out for the title of Los Angeles mayor and will face off in the first mayoral primary in more than a century held in an even year to coincide with state and national elections. The timing, paired with the state’s new mail-in ballot system, could boost turnout.
  • And San Francisco voters will decide whether to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin in what is largely seen as a referendum on the progressive criminal justice policies espoused by Boudin and George Gascón, the top prosecutor in Los Angeles who could soon face a recall election of his own. If Boudin is ousted, San Francisco Mayor London Breed will be tasked with appointing his replacement — and shouldering responsibility for residents’ concerns about crime ahead of her own reelection in 2023.

2. Hammering out a budget plan

Gov. Gavin Newsom, center, flanked by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, right, on Feb. 12, 2019, in Sacramento. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

This week, Newsom is set to release a highly anticipated revision of his January budget blueprint, including an updated estimate of the surplus Senate Democrats project could reach $68 billion. But his administration still needs to work out a lot of disagreements with the Legislature before the June 15 deadline to pass a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1:

Money is also at the crux of the debate surrounding a bill to require some health insurance plans to cover fertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization, CalMatters’ Ana B. Ibarra reports. Oakland Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’ proposal is opposed by the health insurance lobby and business groups, which say it would raise premiums. But supporters argue that California, while moving to expand abortion access, should also protect this other form of reproductive choice.

3. Prepare for possible blackouts this summer

PG&E power lines in Fremont on Oct. 9, 2020. Photo by Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group

On the hottest days this summer, California could face an energy shortfall equivalent to what it takes to power about 1.3 million homes — a number that could soar to 3.75 million if extreme weather and wildfires harm the grid, state officials said Friday. The sobering outlook follows Newsom’s April 27 letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, in which he said the federal government’s inquiry into imported solar cells and modules is delaying California solar energy and storage projects representing at least 4,350 megawatts. (One megawatt powers about 750 to 1,000 California homes.)

  • Also hampering the state’s ability to execute on its clean energy projects, according to Newsom’s letter: supply chain constraints, increased shipping costs, the rising cost of lithium and pandemic lockdowns. And California’s severe drought has also reduced available hydropower.
  • To keep the lights on in a state that two years ago saw its first rolling blackouts in nearly two decades, the state is considering delaying — again — the planned 2023 closure of four gas-powered plants along the Southern California coast, Newsom’s cabinet secretary, Ana Matosantos, told the Sacramento Bee. Newsom himself recently expressed openness to delaying the planned 2025 closure of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
  • Meanwhile, consumers can expect electricity prices to go up. Californians will likely see annual rate increases of between 4% and 9% between now and 2025, said officials from the state Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission and California Independent System Operator.

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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Californians have amazing access to high-quality journalism about issues that affect their lives — if they want it.

How to keep Roe vs. Wade in place: The way to keep reproductive rights intact in California is to embrace what many progressives and Democrats often fear — states’ rights and federalism, argues Mark Allen Gabe Cu, a Stanford University student.

Community colleges need to stop pushing remedial classes: A new bill removes barriers to success by making it clear that community colleges shouldn’t require students to repeat math and English classes they passed in high school, writes Jasmine Prasad of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges.


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