Longshore Workers and Employers Meet for Early Talks on Contract Extension

After a disastrous holiday season two years ago when many ships couldn’t unload their cargo on time at West Coast ports, longshore workers and their employers are trying to head off any similar disaster.

On Nov. 1, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents some 20,000 port workers, and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the shipping lines and port terminal operators that employ them, met in San Francisco to talk about extending the current contract. The current agreement covering 29 West Coast ports expires on July 1, 2019.

After the one-day meeting, the two sides agreed to resume talks at a future date.

Importers and exporters are trying to avoid a repeat of a tumultuous peak shipping season when contract talks to hammer out a new agreement bogged down for 10 months, resulting in work slowdowns that began on Oct. 31, 2014, and ended on Feb. 20, 2015, when a new contract was ratified.

The protracted labor negotiations—the longest in recent longshore history—led to cargo container vessels being anchored for days and weeks beyond the breakwater off the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles while waiting for berths to free up.

Clothing importers and retailers lost millions of dollars as merchandise slated for the holiday season did not make it to store shelves in time.

Recently, various business organizations and 128 trade groups had been urging the two sides to meet sooner rather than later to avoid another breakdown in the transportation system that is so critical for U.S. importers and exporters.

During the last contract negotiations, the National Retail Federation was constantly urging the two sides to sign an agreement and start clearing up the backlog of merchandise that needed to get to stores soon.