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port of los angeles-long beach. photo REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Shipping containers are unloaded from a ship at a container terminal at the Port of Long Beach-Port of Los Angeles complex, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

West Coast Dockworkers, Firms Vow to Avoid Upheaval Amid Contract Talks

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May 7, 2022

By Augusta Saraiva (Bloomberg) –Labor negotiations at 29 West Coast ports are set to start next week with both sides saying they want to avoid further upheaval in supply chains that haven’t fully recovered.

Talks to hammer out a new labor contract for 22,000 West Coast dockworkers are scheduled to start May 12, ahead of the current contract’s expiration on July 1. Jim McKenna, president of the Pacific Maritime Association, which serves as a broker for about 70 carriers and terminal operators, said he’s entering negotiations with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in the “spirit of cooperation.”

“Hopefully everybody is focused to the point that there will be no further disruption to a fragile supply chain,” McKenna said Friday during a virtual press briefing with Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka. 

The ILWU has also expressed hope that a deal could be reached. “The men and women of the ILWU are looking forward to the opportunity to meet with the employers and seek a contract that honors, respects, and protects good American jobs,” ILWU International President Willie Adams said in a statement Friday.

Related Article: West Coast Port Employers Laud Automation Ahead of Labor Talks

Breakdowns in prior negotiations between the union and the PMA had proved crippling for shipments to the western seaboard, which is stoking fears of a repeat just as dockyards work to clear backlogs of goods brought on by pandemic disruptions and historic consumer demand for goods.

When the parties last got together to discuss contracts in 2014, West Coast ports faced months of slowdowns that only ended when the White House got involved. As they sit down to negotiate the new contract, workers are seen as having additional leverage as carriers report record profits in a tight market and ports move unprecedented amounts of cargo. 

McKenna said that cooperation between both sides strengthened during the pandemic as they had to navigate the supply shocks together. “The relationship between the two sides is really healthy,” he said.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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