Tuesday, February 24, 2015

PMA, ILWU Reach Contract Agreement

By Mark Edward Nero

After nine months of sometimes-contentious talks, the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore & Warehouse Union have agreed in principle to the terms of a five-year contract, the two sides said Feb. 20.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement that is good for workers and for the industry,” said PMA President James McKenna and ILWU President Bob McEllrath in a joint statement. “We are also pleased that our ports can now resume full operations.”

During the first month of 2015, most of the West Coast’s major seaports reported that cargo volumes were down significantly compared to the same month the previous year, with most blaming the decline in productivity on the ongoing labor negotiations.

The new five-year contract covers tens of thousands of longshore workers at all 29 West Coast ports. The deal was reached with assistance from US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, who joined negotiations early last week, and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh, who joined negotiations in January after the two sides had been talking for eight months with no sign of a deal apparent.

The previous six-year deal expired July 1, 2014.

The new contract is subject to ratification by both the union rank and file and well as the PMA; both sides have said they are not yet prepared to publicly release details of the agreement.

News of the deal was greeted with a sigh of relief by leaders at major West Coast ports, which had seen productivity decline as negotiations became more contemptuous.

“This will go a long way toward helping to move cargo efficiently through the nation’s busiest container port, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said. “More than ever, we need labor and management working together with all our stakeholders to solve today’s industry challenges.”

“We thank the ILWU and PMA and look forward to everyone getting back to business as usual starting immediately,” Port of Long Beach Chief Executive Jon Slangerup said. “We know that the marine terminal operators, longshore workers, truckers, railroads and others will be extremely busy as they work to clear out the massive backlog of cargo at all of the West Coast ports, including Long Beach. All of us will be working together to make this happen as soon as possible, but once again, we are extremely pleased with today’s news.”

At the Port of Oakland, officials said that it could take six to eight weeks for it and other West Coast ports to recover from the cargo backlog that built up during the dispute.

“Cargo movement should improve soon, but it will take time to restore full productivity,” the port said in a prepared statement.