After 13 months of contentious collective bargaining, West Coast dockworkers and their employers announced late Wednesday that a tentative six-year agreement has been reached.
Details of the agreement between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association were not released, but the deal was struck with the assistance of Julie Su, acting U.S. Secretary of Labor, according to the joint announcement.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement that recognizes the heroic efforts and personal sacrifices of the ILWU workforce in keeping our ports operating,” said PMA President James McKenna and ILWU President Willie Adams in a joint statement. “We are also pleased to turn our full attention back to the operation of the West Coast ports.”
The agreement is subject to ratification by both organizations.
The ILWU represents 22,000 dockworkers up and down the West Coast, while the PMA represents terminal operators and shipping companies. The old contract expired July 1 of last year, less than two months after negotiations began in early May.
Both parties agreed to a media blackout regarding negotiations and promised no lockouts or work slowdowns. As talks dragged on, however, workers began taking action on their own, staging wildcat strikes.
Over the past two and a half months, the PMA has made numerous accusations about union workers hindering work at terminals, including weaponizing lunch breaks, delaying standard dispatch practices and “red tagging” equipment. The union, for its part, denied these accusations.
In early April, 11 of the 13 container terminals in San Pedro Bay closed for a full day due to labor shortages. The union claimed workers were attending a meeting and then observing Good Friday—two events that have not typically shut down the nation’s largest port complex.
On June 1, negotiations allegedly broke down, according to Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka. The following day, to show their displeasure, many dockworkers up and down the coast did not go to work.
The following week, the PMA accused the union of refusing to dispatch lashers—critical workers who secure cargo for trans-Pacific sailings and unfasten arriving cargo. The result was delays for most container ships coming in and out of San Pedro Bay, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.
The lasher issue continued this week, according to the PMA, causing further delays. The Marine Exchange reported Tuesday that 11 ships were experiencing extended delays related to the labor dispute.
The uncertainty surrounding West Coast ports over the last 13 months has resulted in cargo being diverted to East and Gulf coast ports. In fact, the Port of New York and New Jersey, which has long been the third-busiest port in the nation, overtook Long Beach—longtime second-busiest port—in overall cargo movement last year.
“The Port of Long Beach welcomes news of the tentative agreement and applauds the ILWU and PMA for this momentous achievement,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement Wednesday night. “This is great news for the West Coast ports and the supply chain all across America. The contract agreement will have a hugely beneficial impact to the U.S. economy, which depends on our ports and the trade they facilitate.”
“The goods movement workforce and industries provide a crucial and often unheralded service to society by keeping cargo flowing and shelves stocked,” Cordero continued. “The importance of this work cannot be overestimated, and we are fortunate to have so many dedicated individuals devoting their careers to it—people near and far.”