Negotiators have agreed to a tentative contract covering West Coast dockworkers, likely ending a protracted labor dispute that has snarled international trade at seaports handling about $1 trillion worth of cargo annually.
The breakthrough came after nine months of negotiations that turned contentious in the fall, when dockworkers and their employers began blaming each other for problems getting imports to consumers and exports overseas.
The five-year deal, confirmed by International Longshore and Warehouse Union spokesman Craig Merrilees, still must be approved by the 13,000-member union's rank-and-file. They work 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle that handle about one-quarter of all U.S. international trade, much of it with Asia.
Negotiators for the union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents ocean-going shipping lines and the companies that load and unload cargo at terminals ports, began talking formally in May. Their prior six-year contract expired July 1.
During the dispute, employers publicly charged dockworkers with creating a congestion crisis in order to leverage bargaining power by slowing their work rate and withholding skilled workers. The union responded that its members were working safely and blamed the jam on broader dysfunction at West Coast ports that predated contract talks. Weekend and holiday lockouts of many longshoremen followed, though major ports were not fully closed
Cargo trickled through ports. Farm exports suffered — McDonald's in Japan, for example, began rationing fries because of a potato shortage. The meat industry tallied its losses in the tens of millions of dollars. Honda Motor Co. cut production because of a parts shortage.
"After more than nine months of negotiations, we are pleased to have reached an agreement that is good for workers and for the industry," said PMA President James McKenna and ILWU President Bob McEllrath in a joint statement. "We are also pleased that our ports can now resume full operations."
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