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White House Port Envoy Optimistic For West Coast Labor Deal

Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, commander U.S. Transportation Command, listens to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. April 13, 2021. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom)

White House Port Envoy Optimistic For West Coast Labor Deal

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May 13, 2023

By Laura Curtis (Bloomberg) A tentative agreement covering longshore workers at the largest US ports is within reach after a year of negotiations between the union and employers, according to a Biden administration official involved in the talks. 

Many importers and retailers have diverted cargo away from West Coast ports since contract negotiations began last May, worried about potential supply chain disruptions caused by labor actions or lockouts. 

Stephen Lyons, the White House’s supply chain envoy, who was in Los Angeles last week and is involved in the negotiations, expressed optimism. “The reflections I’m getting from both sides are positive, meaning we should see tentative agreements soon,” Lyons, a retired Army general, said in an email Wednesday night.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents ocean carriers and terminal operators at 29 ports from California to Washington State, have been working without a contract since the last one expired on July 1, 2022.

Recent disruptions at the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach have largely ceased, and the PMA and the ILWU’s Local 13 chapter have agreed on manning requirements for cargo handling equipment at certain terminals, the Journal of Commerce reported. An agreement on the use of automated machinery at cargo terminals was reached in April, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Clearing such obstacles has allowed the ILWU and PMA, who are negotiating in San Francisco, to move on to other issues, including wages and pensions. Provisions of the emerging agreement are unclear, as is how long any new contract will be in effect. 

The ILWU declined to comment. The PMA didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Once a tentative agreement is reached, the proposed contract will be sent to local chapters for approval by workers. It could take a few months for the contract to be finalized, and the business community remains concerned over whether the ILWU membership would finalize a deal, even with a tentative agreement in place. 

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, whose members include Home Depot Inc., Target Corp. and Best Buy Co., said some businesses will keep some or all of their cargo away from the West Coast ports until a contract has been ratified.

By Laura Curtis, With assistance from Jordan Fabian. © 2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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