Tom’s Takes: 2023 Year in Review for Supply Chain Labor News & Events


Guest Author: Tom Stretar, VP, Technology at enVista

Let’s take a look back at some of the key supply chain labor-related news and events of 2023 and some my thoughts for 2024:


  • The January jobs report kicked off with a bang, an astounding 517,000 non-farm payroll jobs were added, with unemployment achieving a 53-year seasonally adjusted low of 3.4 percent. 
  • Reports of Starbucks unionization efforts at U.S. stores began to slow. As of January 2023, 274 of the company owned 9,000+ stores in the U.S. were represented by unions, with 63 stores voting against unionization.


  • Michigan becomes the first state in several decade to repeal the union restriction law known as “Right-to-Work.” The law allowed employees in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying union dues and fees.
  • Walmart announced closings of 22 stores across 14 states and the District of Columbia, two pick-up and delivery stores, and layoffs at five e-Commerce distribution centers. The closures and layoffs were a result of reduced e-Commerce sales and new warehouse automation initiatives.
  • Amazon announced 9,000 additional layoffs, following a reduction of 18,000 job in January.


  • Long Beach and Los Angeles ports continue to lose volume to Eastern and Gulf Coast ports. The average number of cargo ships awaiting unload dropped from over 100 in late 2021 to fifteen in March 2023.
  • The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach shut down on April 7 due to port workers not reporting for work.  he port workers had been working without a contract since July 1, 2022.


  • Shopify ends its plan to build a supply chain network by selling its inventory planning software and robotics assets.


  • UPS and the Teamsters announce a five-year agreement raising drivers’ total compensation (pay and benefits) to $170,000. Other news of the agreement includes adding 7,500 jobs, filling 22,500 open positions and eliminating a lower wage scale tier and mandatory overtime.


  • The Panama Canal experiences low water levels causing reduced cargo ship passages to 32 per day and longer transit times.
  • Yellow Freight announces bankruptcy due to a dispute with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). 
  • West coast port workers ratified a new 6-year agreement covering 22,000 workers across 29 U.S. Pacific ports. Seventy-five percent of the port workers voted in favor of the agreement.  The agreement was retroactive to July 1, 2022, and provided a 32 percent pay increase over the span of the agreement, along with a one-time bonus for work performed during the pandemic.


  • Continued reduction in low water in the Panama Canal region causes a second reduction in daily passages, now down to 25 per day, by the Canal Authority.


  • LTL carrier XPO’s bid of $870M to acquire 28 service centers previously operated by Yellow Freight was approved by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.
  • Cargo shipping in the Red Sea experiences militant-style attacks from the Iranian backed Houthi’s. 

Tom’s Take: “The 2022 calendar year was a year with many supply chain new headlines dominated by union worker interest and resurgence. Calendar year 2023 was dominated by reductions in workforce staff across many industries and the interest and rise in robotics within the supply chain and distribution markets. 

As we kick off 2024, I expect a return to a balance between managing the need for human labor and supplementing that with specific-use case studies, like goods-to-person picking systems, where robotics can lead to enhanced customer service level expectations in some industries, such as e-commerce, fast fashion and pharmaceuticals.”

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