West Coast port dispute ends

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | Monday, February 23, 2015

Truck drivers and brokers who deal with West Coast port loads are looking forward to an eventual return to normalcy. Dockworkers came to a new labor agreement with major shippers late Friday, Feb. 20, which ends months of tense negotiating between the two sides.

A backlog of cargo container ships still waiting to dock at West Coast ports, however, will take time to unload, the ports say.

On Friday evening, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association reached an agreement on a five-year labor contract for workers at 29 West Coast ports. The contract’s specifics haven’t been made public as both organizations wait to formally ratify the agreement.

The contract affects 20,000 workers who handle nearly half of the nation’s container cargo.

“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 White House dispatched a mediator to work on an agreement weeks ago. One week ago, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez arrived in San Francisco to join the talks where he met with both sides.

The labor union is reportedly believed to have gained ground concerning arbitration.

“Labor (and management) have ended the ports dispute giving the American people peace of mind we need to continue building our middle class, together,” Perez wrote on Twitter. “If it weren’t the last issue, it would have been solved earlier. But both sides in ports dispute committed to solving problem and did it.”

The labor situation stressed retailers and hurt truck drivers and other workers who rely on steady shifts at the West Coast ports.

The Teamsters Port Division condemned the misclassification of port truck drivers as independent contractors and said the organization will “continue to support the drivers’ fight for a seat at the economic table until justice is served.”

Workers at the West Coast’s largest ports should stay busy. Phillip Sanfield, spokesman with the Port of Los Angeles, said 35 cargo ships were anchored and waiting outside the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach Monday morning.

“Yes, the backlog of ships will exist for a while,” Sanfield told Land Line Magazine. “We expect it will take about two to three months to catch up.”

The backlog will likely affect the multibillion-dollar cargo theft industry.

FreightWatch International, which tracks cargo theft, commented on the labor agreement Monday in a message posted to its website.

“We recommend shippers take precautionary measures as cargo will remain vulnerable throughout this process,” the company said. “Layered security programs, including covert GPS tracking and active monitoring, are essential to ensure that proper protocol is being followed and can be invaluable during the recovery process should a theft occur.”

The labor contract between members of the ILWU and employers expired last July. Port efficiencies suffered last fall before dramatically slowing in January and February.

Speaking on CNBC Monday, Labor Secretary Perez said the jobs tied to the labor agreement are “examples of good, middle-class jobs.”

“Unions have a very proud history of ensuring workers have voice,” Perez said. “When workers have a meaningful voice in the workplace, that benefits the worker and the business.”

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