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Labor Secretary Walsh Assured by ‘Fluid’ West Coast Port Labor Negotiations

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh visits the Port of Los Angeles, November 30, 2021. Credit: Twitter/@SecMartyWalsh

Labor Secretary Walsh Assured by ‘Fluid’ West Coast Port Labor Negotiations

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October 7, 2022

By Augusta Saraiva (Bloomberg) —

The talks to broker a deal for 22,000 dockworkers on the West Coast are moving along, despite dragging longer than anticipated, according to US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

“I stay in close contact with both the employer side and the unions in the West Coast ports, and both sides expressed to me they are still moving forward,” Walsh said in an interview on Bloomberg Television Friday, adding that the negotiations are “fluid.”

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association have been negotiating a new contract for dockworkers in California, Washington and Oregon since May 10. The union has been working without a contract since the previous pact expired July 1. 

Both sides have vowed multiple times to avoid a repeat of the 2014 negotiations, which resulted in the US facing nine months of disruptions and shipping delays that only ended after the Obama administration intervened.

Still, a dispute between the largest marine terminal in Seattle and the ILWU over the assignment of work at a terminal there is casting a shadow on the outcome. Jurisdiction, which refers to what sort of jobs the union’s members get to perform at the ports, remains among the points of contention. 

The port talks are unfolding at a moment of unusual clout and vigor for workers in the US. The hardships of laboring through the Covid-19 pandemic, employers’ robust profits and inflation that’s running at the fastest pace in 40 years could all drive up the union’s expectations for scoring substantial victories.

Walsh brokered a labor deal for 125,000 rail workers after 20 hours of marathon talks between railroads and union representatives last month. Four of the 12 unions have already ratified the deal, and the labor secretary expects the remaining ones to sign the contract “in the next six weeks.”

The labor secretary reaffirmed he has a closer relationship with the ILWU and the PMA than he used to have with the railroads and their unions, and that makes it easier to navigate the talks.

“There will obviously be sticky issues that will pop up every now and then but nothing that is making me concerned that I’ll have to have a 20-hour meeting in my office about it,” Walsh said.

–With assistance from Maria Luiza Rabello and Jonathan Ferro.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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