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July 27, 2022 12:15 PM, EDT

ILWU, PMA Reach Tentative Deal on Health Care Issues

President Joe Biden at the Port of Los AngelesPresident Joe Biden spoke at the Port of Los Angeles on June 10, one month after ILWU and PMA began negotiations on a new contract. (Fox 10 Phoenix via YouTube)

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The 22,000-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association jointly announced July 26 they have reached a tentative agreement on health care benefits.

The sides continue negotiations in San Francisco on a multiyear deal that covers workers at the 29 West Coast port and warehouse facilities. Talks on a new deal began May 10, and the previous contract expired July 1.

In a brief statement announcing the agreement, both sides reiterated they intend to keep negotiating and are keeping the talks private.

“The parties have agreed not to discuss the terms of this tentative agreement as negotiations continue,” the statement said. “Maintenance of health benefits (MOB) is an important part of the contract being negotiated between employers represented by the PMA and workers represented by the ILWU.”

Port officials and other stakeholders are watching negotiations closely, and the new supply chain envoy — retired four-star Gen. Stephen Lyons — said the White House is monitoring the talks “as closely as they can be watched without being a point of interference.”

Stephen Lyons

Lyons

Lyons made his remarks in early July during a news conference with Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka.

“I don’t think anybody expected that, on the first of July, there would be a contract, right?” Lyons said. “That’s not normally how it works. I do think there’s some hard work going on right now in San Francisco. I think there’s some puts and takes between both parties, that’s called negotiations,” he said.

President Joe Biden on June 10 visited the port and urged the two sides to continue face-to-face negotiations.

Paul Bingham, director of transportation consulting at IHS Markit Economics

Bingham

S&P Global Transportation Economist Paul Bingham told Transport Topics he is not reading too much into the tentative health care agreement because he said this same type of deal on so-called side issues has occurred in previous negotiations. However, he said it is important that the union has promised not to strike and management has pledged not to lock the workers out while talks continue.

“It’s a sign that both sides are doing the work,” he said. “To reach an agreement on any substantial portion of the contract indicates they are at the table working at it, give and take on both sides to go down the list, nail down a piece of it and move onto the next part of it, it’s positive in that respect.

“It’s evidence they are working on it. That’s very positive; they’re not at a standstill and they’re making progress.”

Marty Walsh

Walsh

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh earlier this year told TT he would not be surprised if the final contract is not ready to be ratified by the rank and file until the fall, and he said as a former union negotiator and organizer in his native city of Boston he is ready to assist in the talks. He insisted, though, he was not going to get involved in the day-to-day negotiations and would monitor the progress from Washington.

Bingham said he’s not sure when a deal will be struck, but the negotiations are complex with not only wages on the table, but also management’s desire to increase the amount of workplace automation at the ports and warehouse facilities. ILWU negotiators are holding firm that their members should do the majority of the work loading and unloading cargo.

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“You can have an agreement on health care and still get hung up substantially on other issues that are considered more important to the rank and file during this round, such as the terms around work rules and automation,” Bingham said. “They’re at the table and making progress, and that’s evident, so there’s hope they’ll continue on, but is that next week or in September? I don’t know.

“It could take quite a while to work through the remainder of the contract components. Stay tuned, there is going to be more news coming out here.”

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