Newsmakers 2015: Lengthy Negotiations End in New Longshore Workers Contract

The beginning of the year was a challenging time for shippers, who found their merchandise delayed for weeks at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach.

Longshore workers, shipping lines and port-terminal operators were hunkered down for months trying to hammer out a new five-year labor contract between the International Longshore & Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association. The previous contract expired on July 1, 2014. Work slowdowns toward the end of the 10-month-long negotiations resulted in cargo containers sitting on ships for as many as two months as vessels were stacked up beyond the ports’ breakwater waiting for a berth to open up. At one point, there were as many as 27 cargo-container ships anchored and waiting for a docking space.

To make matters worse, a chassis shortage had truckers waiting in line for hours to pick up just one cargo container, which was often buried under several other cargo containers piled up on the docks.

Many apparel importers lost millions of dollars in holiday sales when promotional merchandise arrived too late or retailers canceled orders.

Negotiations started months before the contract ended but progressed slowly. Talks didn’t wrap up until last February after a federal mediator and U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez were dispatched to hammer out a deal.

The new contract, which covers 20,000 workers at 29 West Coast ports, continues to pay union workers for all their health benefits. Workers received a $1-an-hour pay hike that was retroactive to June 28, 2014. The base wage increased $1.50 in 2015 and will go up $1.25 in 2016, $1.50 in 2017 and $1.25 in 2018, when the straight-time wage will become $42.18 an hour.

The contract runs through June 29, 2019.