Eight months on, negotiations for a new labor contract impacting operations at ports across the West Coast continue with no hint of resolution.

In a joint statement last week, the International Longshore & Warehouse Union, which represents more than 22,000 dockworkers on the West Coast, and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping companies and terminal operators, announced that negotiations are ongoing and that both parties “remain hopeful of reaching a deal soon.”

The two groups, however, agreed to a media blackout early on, which means details of the contentious negotiations remain uncertain, despite how crucial they are to the nation’s economy—from large corporations down to the individual consumer.

“News articles purporting to know what is happening at the bargaining table are speculative at best,” the statement reads.

Since negotiations began in May, a tentative agreement on “certain key issues, including health benefits,” have been reached, the organizations stated. Terminal automation is likely one of the more controversial items, with the union working to protect as many jobs as it can.

The old contract expired on July 1, but the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have continued to move high volumes of cargo—both recording their second-busiest years on record. The ports, however, two of the busiest in the country, have seen cargo volumes decline over the past six months.

One cause of the decreased volume is uncertainty over the continued labor negotiations, directors at both ports have said. Shippers have diverted some cargo to Gulf and East coast ports out of fear of a potential strike of West Coast workers, despite no strike having been authorized at this point.

Cargo also was diverted because of the unprecedented backlog of ships waiting off the Southern California coast—an issue that was resolved months ago. Some ships waited upward of two weeks for their turn to unload at the San Pedro Bay ports, which caused store inventories to drop and prices to rise.

The loss of market share in Long Beach caused it to lose its position as the second-busiest container port in the U.S. last year, a title assumed by the Port of New York and New Jersey. Los Angeles, for its part, was able to hold onto the top spot.

Even with shippers taking some of their business to other ports, Long Beach had six record-breaking months last year.

“We welcome the announcement that the parties are working toward an agreement, and we join them in looking forward to a resolution of the contract talks,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in an email to the Business Journal Tuesday. “The ILWU and PMA have accomplished great things together – moving record amounts of cargo and keeping the economy thriving.”

Port of Long Beach continues to see diminished cargo volumes in January

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.