Progress Reported on West Coast Port Negotiations
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After nearly a year of negotiations, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and port management’s Pacific Maritime Association have reached a tentative agreement on what the union described as certain “key issues.”
While details on those issues were not disclosed in an April 20 statement from the union, it offered a glimmer of hope that an end may come to months of labor uncertainty at the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and 27 other West Coast port and warehouse facilities.
“This is welcome news,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero told Transport Topics. “I have been awaiting a signal they are making progress toward a resolution of the contract. Things are on the upbeat and we’re very optimistic. Based on what we’ve heard, I think we could see this finalized in 30 days. I’m not privy to the negotiations, but this is encouraging.”
The union in its statement said talks will continue until a full agreement has been reached.
Negotiations have been ongoing since May 10, and progress has been made along the way; in late July negotiators reached tentative agreement on terms for maintenance of 22,000 ILWU workers’ health care plans. Still, the negotiations have not been without issues. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports closed due to what PMA said were widespread worker shortages. Management accused the ILWU Local 13 of withholding workers for their shifts starting April 6.
The union denied the allegations and said there was no formal work action. It insisted that thousands of union members had been attending a union meeting that day and that the next day — Good Friday — some workers took time off to observe Easter.
“On April 7, 2023, union members who observe religious holidays took the opportunity to celebrate with their families,” ILWU said in a statement. “Cargo operations are ongoing as longshore workers at the ports remain on the job.”
(1/2) “Today’s announcement from the ILWU that key issues have been tentatively agreed upon is welcome news,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka. pic.twitter.com/9XGRFjOudd — Port of Los Angeles (@PortofLA) April 20, 2023
Another issue snaring talks is a dispute between two unions on jurisdictional issues at the Port of Seattle over assignment of work. On April 5, the National Labor Relations Board ruled against the ILWU and the local union over the issue. The NLRB ruling could have broader implications for the master contract covering jurisdictional issues at other ports covered under the agreement.
Amid the negotiations, port container volumes have plunged at all of the West Coast facilities. Cordero said not all of the declines are being caused by the labor talks — he believes much of it is the result of the international and U.S. economies finding their equilibrium after three year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The drop reflects somewhat a return to normality, but I’m sure a percentage of our shippers have felt a lack of confidence in the negotiations,” Cordero said. “We have to keep in mind that in years 2021 and 2022 we had a really significant surge in cargo. Between Los Angeles and Long Beach, we moved 20 million containers in 2021 and in 2022, we moved 19 million plus.”
In March, the Port of Los Angeles reported a 35% decline in container cargo year-over-year. Long Beach was down 30%. The Port of Oakland said it saw its volume fall 12.3% and the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which operates the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., was down 37.3%
Just one month ago, a coalition of 238 national, state and local trade associations — including American Trucking Associations — wrote to President Joe Biden urging the administration to take a more active role in the West Coast port labor negotiations.
“As we have witnessed, significant cargo flows have shifted away from the West Coast ports because of the uncertainty related to the labor negotiations,” the letter said. “While there certainly are other issues impacting the West Coast ports, many cargo interests have expressly stated that they shifted cargo as a result of the negotiations.”
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