West Coast Longshoremen Seek Direct Contract Talks With Shippers

Photo (c) Shutterstock/chungking
Photo (c) Shutterstock/chungking

By Alison Vekshin and James Nash

(Bloomberg) — West Coast dockworkers asked that major employers on the board of the Pacific Maritime Association join in contract negotiations that have stretched over seven months.

The board of the association, which represents shippers, stevedores and terminal operators at 29 ports, is needed at the bargaining table “so that direct and constructive dialog between key decision makers can take place,” Robert McEllrath, president of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union, said today in a statement.

Ports from San Diego to Bellingham, Washington, handle about half of all U.S. imports. Negotiations between the two sides, which began in May, have gone on the longest since at least the 1990s. About 20,000 longshoremen have worked without a contract since a six-year agreement expired July 1. Some began slowdowns and other disruptions in late October, according to the maritime association.

The association is currently represented at the talks by James McKenna, its chief executive officer. The PMA, in a response to the union, said federal mediation is needed to resolve “significant issues,” including wages, pensions, jurisdiction and work rules.

The two sides announced a provisional deal on health-care expenses in late August, without disclosing terms. Another issue is how to retrain and preserve jobs for dockworkers as automation reduces the number of positions.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.