West Coast Ports ‘Hopeful’ About New Labor Deal

Date: Friday, February 24, 2023
Source: Sourcing Journal

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) said on Thursday that labor negotiations are still ongoing, with both parties saying they “remain hopeful of reaching a deal soon.”

In a joint statement, the parties said they’ll remain tight-lipped for now and agreed not to discuss negotiations in the media as collective bargaining continues.

Negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, which would cover more than 22,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports, have dragged on since they started on May 10, 2022 in San Francisco.

The previous contract expired July 1, with both sides having reinforced their commitment to getting a deal done with no disruptions to cargo movement. Throughout the negotiations, West Coast ports have continued to operate.

Both sides reached a tentative agreement on certain key issues, including health benefits, but “remain committed to resolving remaining issues as expeditiously as possible.”

Talks are continuing on an ongoing basis until an agreement is reached, reps said.

The update appeared to take a shot at media outlets, reiterating that negotiations are not open to both the media as well as the general public.

“News articles purporting to know what is happening at the bargaining table are speculative at best,” the parties said in their first official update since September.

The ILWU and the PMA, which represents more than 70 terminal operators and ocean liners, did not respond to Sourcing Journal’s requests for comment.

According to a report from supply chain trade publication Journal of Commerce, citing sources close to the talks, the two sides resumed negotiations after a lengthy hiatus caused by a dispute over a jurisdictional issue in Seattle.

A dispute between the ILWU and the International Association of Machinists (IAM), along with terminal operator SSA Marine, over which union handles the task of cold ironing ships, went before the National Labor Relations Board in September.

At the time, the ILWU alleged that IAM and SSA Marine were colluding to keep its own members out of work at the Seattle terminal, in order to stall the West Coast contract negotiations. The intra-union case is not yet resolved and its timeline, like the wider port negotiations, remains unclear.

One of the faces of the West Coast ports chimed in on the situation with a positive take. Last week, Port of Los Angeles executive director Gene Seroka said during a monthly press briefing that the contract “may not get done in February or March, but I’m still pretty confident that we’ll see some real progress here in the springtime.”

The fallout from the ongoing negotiations has spooked cargo owners into shifting more of their business to ports on the East Coast and Gulf Coast, with up to 40 percent of logistics managers saying they diverted trade out of the region, a recent CNBC survey said.

That resulted in the Port of New York and New Jersey claiming the title of busiest port in the U.S. for four straight months from August to November 2022, overtaking the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The hub closed out 2022 handling a record 9.5 million TEUs—beating its 2021 record by 5.5 percent.

To start January, both major West Coast ports saw significant declines in the amount of cargo coming through the hubs.

The Port of Los Angeles processed 726,014 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) during the month, a 16 percent decrease from the previous January’s all-time record. Meanwhile, dockworkers and terminal operators at the Port of Long Beach moved 573,772 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) last month, down 28.4 percent from the record January 2022.

Having passed the nine-month mark, the current negotiations are now appear set to last longer than acrimonious negotiations that ran from May 2014 until February 2015 that were marked by delays in cargo handling that cost retailers millions of dollars in lost sales.

The White House has not intervened like it did to prevent a potential rail strike in December. Earlier this month Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said, “I wish this negotiation was done, but there’s a lot of issues out there they want to get through.”

As the contract negotiations on the West Coast rage on, attention also is creeping toward the East and Gulf Coasts on the labor front as well. Unions representing dockworkers across 36 ports stretching from Maine to Texas opened contract talks with their local employers nearly 18 months ahead of the current deal’s expiration date of Sept. 30, 2024.


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