Longshore Workers Reach Tentative Agreement With Employers

It must have been the threats to take the talks back to wintery Washington, D. C. that prompted longshore workers and their employers to come up with a tentative agreement on Friday, Feb. 20.

After nine long months of negotiations in San Francisco, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union hammered out a tentative pact for a five-year contract with its employers, who operate under the Pacific Maritime Association.

"After more than nine months of negotiations, 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."

The talks took a more elevated tone this week as Labor Secretary Tom Perez was sent in this week to get the two sides to iron out their differences. It was Perez who threatened to take the talks to Washington, D.C., if an agreement wasn't reached by Friday.

The agreement still needs approval from ILWU members, but should start clearing up the congestion problems at the various ports up and down the West Coast.

The PMA had accused the union of not sending in enough crane operators to clear cargo containers from the ships. But the union said there were not enough trained crane operators to fill their need.

Nevertheless, cargo containers have been piling up on the docks. As of Monday morning, Feb. 23, there were 27 cargo containers anchored off the breakwater that protects the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach.
That is an all-time high during this recent port congestion problem.

The previous contract, which covers nearly 20,000 workers at 29 West Coast ports, expired on July 1. Port congestion problems started popping up in late September and only grew worse as the holiday season grew closer.

Many apparel and textile importers were having to wait as long as one month to get their merchandise out of the two Los Angeles-area ports.

Getting workers to speed up cargo delivery will help the port congestion problem, but won't be the ultimate solution, port officials said.

A shortage of chassis, the wheeled frames used to transport containers, is an ongoing problem. The three chassis leasing entities at the two ports are forming a gray chassis pool that should be up and running by early March. But it may not be enough for peak season.