A man fishes just off the shores of Terminal Island Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

The labor contract between 22,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports and their employers expires today at 5 p.m., but cargo flow through the ports is expected to continue as normal, both parties announced in a joint statement

Negotiations for a new contract between the International Longshore & Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association began in May. From the beginning, both groups have candidly stated an agreement would likely not be reached by the deadline.

Despite the ongoing mediation and no contract extension, both parties maintain that no work slowdowns, stoppages or lockouts are being planned, and goods will continue to move through West Coast ports.

“Both sides understand the strategic importance of the ports to the local, regional and U.S. economies, and are mindful of the need to finalize a new coast-wide contract as soon as possible to ensure continuing confidence in the West Coast,” the joint statement reads.

The San Pedro Bay ports—Long Beach and Los Angeles—combined handle over 30% of containerized imports into the U.S. Last year, both ports moved a record number of containers for a total of over 20 million 20-foot equivalent units (the standard measure of a shipping container).

The contract negotiation update comes the same day both ports released comments praising the California budget, which was signed Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and includes over $2 billion for ports.

The budget includes $1.2 billion over two years for “port-specific high-priority” projects meant to increase capacity and efficiency, including rail and roadways, bridges and equipment.

“These investments in a vital economic engine will enhance the efficiency and sustainability of cargo movement and help fund important port projects such as the Pier B On-Dock Rail Support Facility and the Supply Chain Information Highway,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said.

The San Pedro Bay ports have suffered severe congestion since 2020 due to several factors, including increased e-commerce amid the pandemic. At one point, there were over 100 container ships waiting off the coast for their turn at berth. That number has since decreased to 19 as of Thursday, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

The budget also allocates $30 million for operational and process improvements at the state’s ports, $40 million to increase the state’s commercial driver’s license capacity and $760 million for the purchase of zero-emission equipment, vehicles and infrastructure. Additionally, the budget includes $110 million over three years for a goods movement workforce training center for San Pedro Bay port workers.

The training center will focus on worker skill development, upskilling and reskilling workers “to address the rapidly changing needs of the logistics industry.” One particular area of focus at the center will be training workers in emerging green and zero-emission technologies.

One key disagreement between the ILWU and PMA is the advancement of automation at ports, which the union claims will cost thousands of jobs and make terminals less efficient, while the PMA claims it would increase efficiency and require different skills for workers, namely for the maintenance of equipment. The training center would play a role in re-training those workers.

“The unprecedented supply chain challenges of the past two years have underscored the need to invest in new technology and training at our ports to keep goods moving reliably, efficiently and safely,” Jim McKenna, president and CEO of the PMA, said in a statement.

“The members of our union have adapted to new technologies and have helped shape training programs since our inception in the 1930s,” ILWU Local 13 President Ramon Ponce de Leon added. “With this important announcement, we look forward to training future generations to be productive employees on our working waterfront.”

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