San Francisco, CA – Negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU) continue as the clock ticks down to midnight, June 30 – the deadline when the current contract between West Coast dock workers and ocean terminal operators expires.
The month-long negotiations cover a contract that would frame the work of more than 14,000 dock workers at 79 ocean terminals at 29 US West Coast load centers, including the major container ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Portland, Seattle and Tacoma.
If no contract has been agreed to by the July 1 deadline, both the PMA, which represents the terminal operators, and the ILWU could agree to extend the existing agreement into July, but there is no guarantee as past contract negotiations between the two groups have historically been contentious.
In 2002, negotiations got so ugly that President George W. Bush had to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act to end an 11-day shutdown of US West Coast ports, citing the port’s’ operations as ”vital to our economy and to our military.”
A study by the University of California at Berkeley that year estimated that total cost of shutting down the West Coast ports was about $2 billion a day in lost business and tax revenue from sales and wages. The strike also created a backlog of cargo that took weeks to alleviate.
The 2002 shutdown forced ocean carriers to divert cargo to ports in British Columbia and along the US Gulf and East Coasts, and compel manufacturers, importers and exporters across the country to re-configure critical supply chain and production schedules.
Traditionally the ILWU-PMA contract covers three years. But after the 2002 lockout, a six-year contract was instituted as a way of ensuring labor stability for a longer time.
The six-year duration was renewed again in 2008 as the economy was struggling and stability was again a priority. In the current negotiations, the three-year term is again back on the table.
Industry Concerns Deepen
A number of national, private-sector industry groups have communicated their growing concern that the negotiations come to a successful conclusion prior to the contract’s expiration date.
The West Coast ports are critical not only to our members, but to any business, manufacturer, farmer or anyone that relies on imports and exports for their business,” stated Jon Gold, who oversees transportation issues for the giant National Retail Federation.
Bruce Carlton, president of the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL), said during a recent press conference that unhindered operations at US West Coast ports are “a big deal for everybody. So much of what we buy and sell in this country moves through those ports.”
The Agriculture Transportation Coalition in Washington, DC, released an “open letter” to ILWU President Robert McEllrath, and James McKenna, PMA president & CEO.
“There is nothing that we produce in agriculture and forest products in the United States, that cannot be sourced somewhere else in the world,” the letter stated. “If we cannot deliver dependably and affordably, our foreign customers will simply shift their sourcing to other countries.”