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Port Industry Says Biden Vaccine Mandate Risks Worsening Tie-Ups

Nov. 11, 2021, 3:36 PM

The head of the organization representing companies in labor relations at the U.S.’s largest ports is worried that the federal vaccine mandate set to take effect in January could worsen the current supply-chain crisis.

James McKenna, president of the Pacific Maritime Association, which negotiates labor agreements for 70 companies at 29 West Coast ports, said he’s concerned that some workers who aren’t vaccinated won’t report for duty if there’s a mandate in place. McKenna estimates 30% to 40% of local dockworkers aren’t vaccinated.

“Probably the worst thing that could happen to us is to have less bodies available to man these terminals,” McKenna said in an interview.

The Biden administration announced last week that all employees at companies with more than 100 workers must get Covid-19 vaccinations by Jan. 4 or get tested weekly. Companies that don’t enforce the rule could face a fine of as much as $13,653 for each serious violation. The mandate, however, has been on hold since Friday, when a federal appeals court in New Orleans temporarily halted its implementation.

In a Nov. 5 statement, the ILWU Coast Longshore Division, which represents workers from San Diego to the nation’s northernmost port of Bellingham, Washington, said it understands “how divisive this issue is” but that it couldn’t “demand to bargain over matters required by” the mandate. The union didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

McKenna also said it will be difficult to enforce the mandate given the flexible nature of dock work, in which employees are dispatched to areas where there is demand. About 80% of the labor force work on a rotation basis, and not for a single employer.

Due to the outdoor nature of many dockwork jobs, a large share of employees wouldn’t be subject to the mandate, because the rule doesn’t apply to those working exclusively outdoors, McKenna said.

Keeping track of 15,000 employees who work for different facilities from day-to-day “is going to be a Herculean task,” McKenna said. “Particularly for those that have not been vaccinated and are required to be tested.”

To contact the reporter on this story:
Augusta Saraiva in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
John J. Edwards III at

Ana Monteiro, Sarah McGregor

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