Negotiations to begin next month in high-stakes labor talks at West Coast ports


By Laura Curtis, March 26, 2022 (Bloomberg) — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has said he expects labor negotiations to be resolved without significant disruption to America’s biggest ports — and a string supply strain – as contracts for West Coast dockworkers expire this summer.

Negotiations could begin as early as next month between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents about 15,000 West Coast dockworkers, and the Pacific Maritime Association, made up of about 70 companies at 29 ports in the region.

The stakes are high as the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are just beginning to clear historic backlogs created by pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions. The current employment contract expires on July 1.

“We’ve been through enough shocks for the system,” the mayor said in a Friday interview at City Hall. “We have enough work to do and we have enough capital this time to be able to solve these problems.”

Garcetti said he was optimistic the two sides would be able to come to an agreement, especially given the amount of money shipping carriers have to use this time around, and what he called the “reasonable demand” of the union on wages, pensions and health care.

“These companies have never made more money,” said Garcetti, seated next to a display of a model freighter from French company CMA CGM SA, one of the largest container companies in the world. world. Cargo carriers, which posted record profits last year, unloaded more than 40% of containerized cargo entering the United States at ports in San Pedro Bay.

“There are reasonable things the unions are asking for,” he added. “If they can see that middle ground and do it sooner rather than later – let’s make sure it’s not one of those who slips up on July 1.”

Garcetti said he offered to help with shuttle diplomacy and said he had a good track record of bringing people together in labor disputes in Los Angeles. The White House also brought in Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh from the start, he said.

“We sowed the ground” ahead of the talks, Garcetti said.

There’s a lot at stake. Two years of record consumer spending have seen cargo hammer ports with delays and congestion, and workers are seen as having extra leverage. With wages and benefits high on the workers’ agenda, employers’ right to automation is likely to emerge as a particularly thorny issue.

In the last round of contract talks that began in 2014, disagreements lasted nine months, creating an economic headwind across the country, a long line of waiting ships and shortages of some consumer goods.

The disruption only ended when the White House stepped in and, according to an analysis by Copenhagen-based Sea-Intelligence, it took the shipping industry eight to nine months after a deal was struck in February 2015 to return to normal service.

Originally slated to end in 2019, the contracts were extended for three years after around two-thirds of union members voted to lengthen them to avoid cargo disruptions in exchange for higher wages and pensions . The ILWU declined an offer from the PMA last fall to extend the contracts for a year.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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