BROOMFIELD, Colo.— After nine months of often tense negotiations, agreement on a tentative contract between shipowners and dockworkers has been reached that will return 29 West Coast ports to full operations.
The deal between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association was reached on Friday, Feb. 20. It came just days after U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez flew to California to broker the talks. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the agreement is a five-year deal that still needs to be approved by the 13,000-member ILWU. According to reports, the union will likely vote on it in April.
Some 20,000 dockworkers had been working without a contract since July. Negotiations between the workers and the PMA, which represents about 70 shipping companies, began in May, weeks before the contract’s expiration. Recently, members of Congress and governors of the states affected had spoken out, urging the two sides to come to terms.
"After more than nine months of negotiations, we are pleased to have reached an agreement that is good for workers and for the industry," PMA president James McKenna and ILWU president Bob McEllrath said in a joint statement. "We are also pleased that our ports can now resume full operations."
The inability to come to an agreement meant a crippling backlog at the ports, both in terms of unloading cargo off ships and American goods being loaded onto ships for export. Millions of dollars in perishables, such as produce and meat, have been lost. And although the docks are now back up to full speed, analysts say it will take months for the ports to catch up. The Journal of Commerce, a publication that covers global maritime and logistical issues, put out the following statement:
"Industry experts agree that it will take months for Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma—all among the 10 largest ports in the U.S.—to return to 'normal' operations."
The 29 ports handle about $1 trillion worth of trade annually. The LA and Long Beach ports by themselves account for about 40 percent of the nation’s incoming container cargo, with about $1 billion worth moving through daily. Almost two-thirds of those imports come from China.
The wholesale apparel and textile industries were among many segments of the global economy affected by the labor dispute. According to Seth Barnett, government relations manager for the Promotional Products Association International, it’s uncertain how much the apparel industry suffered monetarily because the organization doesn't have the resources to track imports to that level of detail, but he acknowledged that the hit it took was significant.
Alex Weidner, the owner of a retail clothing store in Los Angeles, described the situation to the LA Times, stating, "Clothing and fashion is definitely perishable.We only have a limited number of months to try and sell these items until they are out of season and we need to discount them on sale, which creates even more of a ripple effect throughout our business."