While negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) employer group and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) remain under a media black-out, reports coming out of the discussions on the West Coast longshore labor contract suggest that the two parties are likely to reach a deal in the August-September time frame.
The labor negotiations between the PMA and ILWU represent more than 22,000 dock workers and 29 West Coast ports from California to Washington—accounting for approximately 40% of U.S. imports. The talks began in May ahead of the existing agreement’s July 1 expiration. While that date has since passed, work at the docks have continued with little disruption.
The negotiations between the PMA and ILWU cover hours, wages and working conditions, among other issues.
- Automation is reportedly one of the remaining sticking points in the talks. The PMA is unwilling to cede ground won in 2008 negotiations on port automation—such as autonomous vehicles and cranes for moving and stacking containers—and in May released a report emphasizing its efficiency. Long a hot-button issue—only a handful of terminals have implemented any sort of automated process—the ILWU points to automation as a job killer and that reports of increased container through-put hide losses elsewhere.
- Unresolved local grievances are also expected to be a factor in the discussion. For example, an outstanding dispute over promised ILWU jurisdiction over maintenance and repair work at Terminal 5 at the Port of Seattle.
- Opening a door to a potential solution to disputes, record profits the container lines enjoyed in 2021 and this year could support significant increases in dockworker wages and benefits.
Despite the sticking points in the negotiations, The Journal of Commerce reports that most stakeholders are optimistic that the PMA and ILWU will reach an agreement within the next few months.
Prior to the expiration of the existing contract, the two sides issued a joint statement noting, “While there will be no contract extension, cargo will keep moving, and normal operations will continue at the ports until an agreement can be reached between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union.”
And cargo continues to flow through the ports in record volumes. The Port of Los Angeles reports that in the month of June, 876,611 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) moved through the facility, the largest volume of cargo moved through port in any month of June in its 115-year history. Year-to-date, 5.4 million TEUs have flowed through the port so far in 2022.
Further supporting optimism over the negotiations is the active involvement of the Biden Administration. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh and White House Port Envoy Stephen R. Lyons are both engaged in the talks, speaking regularly with labor and management.