After year of contract negotiations leading to numerous delays and decreased cargo movement at ports along the West Coast, union dockers and port operators have reached a tentative agreement that will last for six years.
In a joint statement issued late Wednesday, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association announced a tentative agreement on a new contract that covers 22,000 workers at 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle, some of the busiest in the world.
Details of the deal, which is expected to be formally ratified by both sides, were not immediately released.
President Biden who entered last year to urge a quick solutionissued a statement congratulating both sides on reaching an agreement “after lengthy and sometimes acrimonious negotiations.”
“As I’ve always said, collective bargaining works,” Mr. Biden said. “First of all, I congratulate the dock workers who heroically served in the port pandemic and the countless challenges it has brought and they will finally get the pay, benefits and quality of life they deserve.”
Mr. Biden also thanked Julia Su, the acting U.S. Secretary of Labor, for helping to finalize the deal. Ms. Su, who in recent years served as head of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, was nominated by Mr. Biden in February succeeding Martin J. Walsh as Secretary of Labor. Before a closely divided Senate, her nomination tossed around for months.
Wednesday’s result somewhat reflected past negotiations. In 2015, after nine months of talks, Obama administration officials intervened amid a slowdown in work and increased port congestion.
It is also the second time in six months that the Biden administration has intervened in a labor dispute that could have caused major damage to the US economy. In December, Mr. Biden signed legislation introduce a labor agreement between railway companies and employees.
The prospect of further disruption to the nation’s freight transport system is on the horizon. The Teamsters’ contract with United Parcel Service, which covers 340,000 workers, expires July 31, and the union will announce the results of a strike authorization vote on Friday.
Negotiations between the Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping terminals, have focused on disagreements over wages and the expanding role of automation. (Unionized dock workers have average salaries in the low six figures.) Last year, the two sides, which had been silent for most of the year, announced incremental agreements on areas including health care benefits.
Workers have staged a series of work slowdowns at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which have lost significant business to ports along the Gulf and East Coast in recent months. Cargo handling at the Port of Los Angeles, a key entry point for shipments from Asia, fell about 40 percent in February from a year earlier.
For decades on the West Coast, ports have created an ecosystem of jobs that includes warehouses, trucking and railroads. In Oakland, for example, more than 84,000 regional jobs depend on the city’s port. Roughly 13,000 truck drivers are authorized to pick up cargo at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Christopher S. Tang, a distinguished professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Anderson School of Management who studies supply chains, said it was unclear whether shipping volume at the nation’s Pacific ports would bounce back.
“Many firms have shifted their supply base from China to Southeast Asia and Mexico,” Mr Tang said. “For many Southeast Asian countries, it is cheaper and faster to ship to the East Coast instead of the West Coast.”
Mr Tang added: “West coast ports need to do more marketing to lure shippers, importers and exporters back.”
Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote to Mr. Biden urging the administration to immediately intervene in the negotiations and appoint an independent mediator to help the two sides reach an agreement.
Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation, said the continued delays and disruptions had a negative impact on retailers and other stakeholders who rely on West Coast ports for business operations.
“As we enter the all-important peak shipping season for holiday goods, retailers need a seamless flow of containers through the ports and into their distribution centers,” said Mr. Shay.
On Wednesday, Gene Seroka, head of the Port of Los Angeles, said in a statement that the tentative agreement between the ILWU and Pacific Maritime “brings the stability and confidence that customers have been looking for.”
Matt Schrap, executive director of the Harbor Trucking Association, a trade group for trucking companies serving West Coast ports, said his organization is eager to see trucking return to normal soon.
“We need certainty,” he said. “It was a long and difficult process.