Western Ports’ Tentative Agreement to Boost Economy

By Allen Smith Feb 25, 2015
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Agricultural commodities, car parts and many other goods transported by ship and by truck should start moving more quickly as the slowdowns at West Coast ports finally may be approaching an end.

After months of wrangling, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) on Feb. 20, 2015, announced a tentative agreement on a new five-year contract covering workers at all 29 West Coast ports.

‘Huge Relief for Our Economy’

The tentative agreement was reached with assistance from U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh.

“This is great news for the parties involved in the negotiation and a huge relief for our economy—particularly the countless American workers, farmers and businesses that have been affected by the dispute and those facing even greater disruption and costs with further delays,” said President Barack Obama’s Press Secretary Josh Earnest in a Feb. 20 statement. “Helping resolve this dispute has been a top priority, and last weekend the president directed Labor Secretary Tom Perez to travel to California to meet with the parties to help them reach a resolution because further delays would have been harmful to these workers and the economy.”

ILWU International President Bob McEllrath and PMA President James McKenna said in a joint statement, “After more than nine months of negotiations, we are pleased to have reached an agreement that is good for workers and for the industry. We are also pleased that our ports can now resume full operations.”

The parties will not be releasing details of the agreement at this time.

200 SlowdownsDuring Last Contract

Contract negotiations had been tense. As recently as Feb. 11, PMA spokesman Wade Gates said, “PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion. The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet, and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock. What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.”

The union demanded the right to fire any arbitrator who ruled against them at the end of each contract period, PMA said, “even though those arbitrators are the referees who keep West Coast ports operating smoothly. During the 2008-2014 contract period, the four area arbitrators found the ILWU guilty of more than 200 slowdowns or work stoppages.

“The ILWU’s current slowdowns, now in their fourth month, show the very reason that we need a healthy arbitration system in place,” Gates said. “It is essential to be able to prevent the crippling slowdowns that are impacting workers and businesses across the nation.”

McEllrath denied that the union caused the slowdowns, saying congestion at Pacific Coast ports was “industry-induced” because of new business models, such as:

  • Outsourcing work on the docks that was previously done by longshore workers, including the management, maintenance and inspection of tens of thousands of container chassis units.
  • Creating new companies, twice removed from PMA-member employers, who were receiving subcontracted work that was formerly done by longshore workers.
  • Failing to provide sufficient training for current and future dockworkers to improve safety and protect ILWU jurisdiction.

“Other factors contributing to massive congestion are increased container volumes, use of new ‘mega-ships’ carrying up to 14,000 containers, shortages of port truckers [and] tighter railroad capacity,” according to the ILWU in a Dec. 23, 2014, statement. “McEllrath declared that the ILWU would not be intimidated by industry efforts to blame workers and the union for company-caused port congestion problems.”

Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.

Related Article:

Steelworkers Strike at Oil Refineries, Slow Down at Ports, SHRM Online, February 2015

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