The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) announced a tentative agreement on a new six-year contract covering workers at all 29 West Coast ports on June 14th.
The parties gave credit “to the assistance from (Acting) U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su” who was dispatched by President Biden to the San Francisco negotiations on Monday so as to affect a settlement.
The parties said they “will not be releasing details of the agreement at this time. The agreement is subject to ratification by both parties”
The announcement added: “We are pleased to have reached an agreement that recognizes the heroic efforts and personal sacrifices of the ILWU workforce in keeping our ports operating,” said PMA President James McKenna and ILWU President Willie Adams in a joint statement. “We are also pleased to turn our full attention back to the operation of the West Coast Ports.”
In February, 2021, James McKenna, president of the Pacific Maritime Association reported that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach had seen the highest number of COVID cases among U.S. West Coast ports and that thirteen longshore workers had so far died.
The agreement comes after 13 months of negotiations.
Many industry officials believe this delay was avoidable if the ILWU had agreed to a contract last July when its contract with the PMA expired.
At that time, West Coast marine terminals were in much better financial shape than they are today and better able to afford a generous wage increase for longshore workers. This was recognized by industry officials as a testament to ILWU workers who kept West Coast ports operational during the Covid pandemic of 2020-2022 and for those who lost their lives staying on the job.
Since contract negotiations began in May 2022, West Coast terminals have faced a steep decline in container volumes related to a slow-down in Trans-Pacific trade caused by a slower economy and rising inflation.
In 2022, a move by shippers to shift cargo from West Coast ports to East and Gulf Coast ports may have accounted for as much as a 15% market loss. This was caused by the delay in reaching a labor agreement creating uncertainty.
One cause of delay reaching an agreement may have been that some ILWU leaders were heavily focused on an attempt to blunt the agreement that the ILWU itself had made to support greater automation of terminal operations. ILWU negotiators may also have sought to use the negotiations to solve a jurisdictional issue, according to some reports.
The role of ILWU Local 13, representing longshore workers in Los Angeles and Long Beach, is believed to have played a leading role in directing the negotiations.
The long-term damage to West Coast ports, who lost market share as a result of the labor uncertainty, remains to be seen.
© Copyright 1999–2023 American Journal of Transportation. All Rights Reserved