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ILWU and PMA expect labor negotiations to go past July 1 deadline

As negotiations continue between the International Longshore Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), with their current contract set to expire at the end of June, the organizations said in a joint statement issued today that “they are unlikely to reach a deal before the July 1 expiration of the current agreement.”

The ILWU represents port workers in California, Oregon, and Washington, with more than 40 percent of U.S. incoming container traffic moving through West Coast ports at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to industry estimates. The PMA represents shipping lines and terminal operators at 29 West Coast ports. And the contract represents more than 22,000 dockworkers at all 30 U.S. West Coast ports.

“This timing is typical, and cargo operations continue beyond the expiration of the contract,” said ILWU and PMA. “Neither party is preparing for a strike or a lockout, contrary to speculation in news reports. The parties remain focused on and committed to reaching an agreement.”
Negotiations between the parties kicked off on May 10, with the ILWU and PMA saying negotiations will continue until a new agreement is reached.

What’s more, ILWU and PMA said that in a June 10 meeting aboard the Battleship U.S.S. Iowa in San Pedro, California with President Biden, they discussed various issues, including supply chain congestion and also their shared commitment to reach a collective bargaining agreement that is fair to both parties.

On a Port of Los Angeles (POLA)-hosted media call earlier today, Gene Seroka, POLA Executive Director, said that he is confident a deal between the parties will get done.

“They understand the task at hand,” he said. “From my perspective, there are savvy negotiators on both sides of the table who understand what is at stake economically, with these 29 ports representing some 9% of our nation’s GDP. And, as we have seen from the very beginning, the Biden-Harris administration, the Cabinet, and senior policy makers have made a strong effort to develop relationships and stay available to both sides as we move through this important negotiating period.”

As previously noted in LM, this is not the first time a contract between the organizations has been set to expire. And one does not have to go too far back to see how acrimonious negotiations were, as in 2015, in the months prior to the June 30 deadline, it required the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to step in to help the sides find a way to come to an agreement over stalled labor negotiations. What’s more, the ongoing tension between the parties subsequently resulted in hindered productivity and also was a contributing factor in port congestion on the West Coast, especially as it led up to the 2016 holiday season. The PMA said, at the time, that the state of terminal productivity at the five largest West Coast ports was approaching gridlock, due in large part to what it labeled ILWU-staged shutdowns.

In early April, ILWU President Willie Adams said in an interview with Seroka on the port’s monthly media call that fears about getting a deal done may be overblown.

“There are adults on both sides of the table, it is called a process,” said Adams. “I believe in the American process of collective bargaining. That is a right as an American. We will get an agreement. It takes both sides, and right now we are getting ready. The other side, they are doing what they have to do. Sometime in May we are going to sit down, and we are going to get an agreement, and I wish, instead of people writing things and saying we are going to throw the baby out with the bathwater…they ought to be talking about the positive things out of Covid, all of the good things that have come out of this.”

And last month PMA President and CEO Jim McKenna said on a different POLA call that that from a general perspective, the relationship between the two sides is very healthy.

“I think the pandemic and coming together and really working towards overcoming obstacles [from the pandemic] has really solidified our ability to work together,” he said. “I think as we head into negotiations, we are going to see that same type of attitude. There will be difficult issues to discuss…. hours, wages, working conditions that everyone discusses, and there will be other topics. I think we are focused on this contract like all the other contracts; it will have a start and a finish and whatever happens in the middle will be between the two sides.

Hopefully everybody is focused to the point that there will be no further disruption to a fragile supply chain and I think we are going in with that spirit of cooperation. But until you get to the table and see the demands that come across and the proposals that go across, you are really at a wait and see moment in time but again I think we are going in under very healthy conditions.”

While making it clear the contact will not be negotiated in the press, McKenna did not shy away from saying that there will be challenging issues to address, including hours, wages, and working conditions, which he said will be front and center.

Looking at three different examples, he further proved his point:

  • in 2002, it went past its expiration date and into October which was followed by a 11-day lockout, costing the economy $10 billion, with things opening back up after the Taft-Hartley Act was invoked, and it took three months to recover;
  • in 2008 there was an automation agreement, which McKenna described as a big deal and one of those issues that many thought was going to be tough to overcome, whereas that contract was settled three weeks after it expired, with little to no disruption; and  
  • in 2014, he said there were no real major issues on the table and it took until eight months after expiration with some slowdowns to get to an agreement

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About the Author

Jeff Berman's avatar
Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review and is a contributor to Robotics 24/7. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis.
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