West Coast Dockworkers Reach Contract Deal With Port Operators

After a year of contract negotiations that resulted in numerous delays and a decline in the movement of cargo at ports along the West Coast, union dockworkers and port operators have reached a tentative deal set to last for six years.

In a joint statement released late Wednesday, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association announced a tentative agreement on a new contract that covers 22,000 workers at 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle, some of the busiest in the world.

Details about the agreement, which is expected to be formally ratified by both sides, were not immediately released.

President Biden, who stepped in last year to urge a swift resolution, released a statement congratulating both parties for reaching an agreement “after a long and sometimes acrimonious negotiation.”

“As I have always said, collective bargaining works,” Mr. Biden said. “Above all I congratulate the port workers, who have served heroically through the pandemic and the countless challenges it brought and will finally get the pay, benefits, and quality of life they deserve.”

Mr. Biden also thanked Julie Su, the acting U.S. labor secretary, for assistance in finalizing the deal.

The outcome on Wednesday somewhat mirrored past negotiations between the two sides. In 2015, as negotiations went on for nine months, officials in the Obama administration intervened amid work slowdowns and increased congestion at ports.

The protracted negotiations between the union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the shipping terminals, have focused on disagreements over wages and the expanding role of automation.

In recent weeks the Longshore and Warehouse Union, or the I.L.W.U., has staged a series of work slowdowns at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which in recent months have lost sizable business to ports along the Gulf and East Coasts. Cargo processing at the Port of Los Angeles, a key entry point for shipments from Asia, was down roughly 40 percent in February, compared with the year before.

Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to Mr. Biden urging the administration to intervene immediately in the negotiations and appoint an independent mediator to help the two parties reach an agreement.

Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation, said the ongoing delays and disruptions have had a negative impact on retailers and other stakeholders who rely on the West Coast ports for business operations.

“As we enter the all-important peak shipping season for holiday merchandise, retailers need a seamless flow of containers through the ports and to their distribution centers,” Mr. Shay said.

On Wednesday, Gene Seroka, head of the Port of Los Angeles, said in a statement that the tentative agreement between the I.L.W.U. and the Pacific Maritime “brings the stability and confidence that customers have been seeking.”

Matt Schrap, chief executive of the Harbor Trucking Association, a trade group for transportation companies serving West Coast ports, said his organization is eager for cargo traffic to return to normal soon.

“We need the certainty,” he said. “This has been a long, hard process.”

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