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West Coast Port Talks on Hold Again

Negotiations surrounding a new labor contract for West Coast port dockworkers have plodded on, but the talks are on hold again following another 3-day hiatus just two weeks ago.

In a joint statement issued Friday, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents the dockworkers, and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents employers who operate the port terminals and shipping lines, said they both agreed to break from negotiations this Monday and Tuesday in order for the ILWU to convene a previously scheduled Longshore Division Caucus in San Francisco. Negotiations are set to resume Wednesday.

In addition to this interlude, no talks will take place from July 28 to Aug. 1 so the ILWU can resume unrelated contract negotiations in the Pacific Northwest.

The previous six-year labor contract, covering 20,000 longshore workers at 29 West Coast ports expired July 1, and talks surrounding the new contract have been ongoing since May. Benefits are reportedly the biggest point of contention, and the two sides are also working out an agreement over a tax that will take effect in 2018 under the Affordable Care Act on certain plans, which the union’s coverage qualifies for, that could cost up to $150 million.

While the contract is in limbo, the ILWU and PMA have promised to keep cargo moving until an agreement can be reached, but some who process cargo through the Southern California ports have said the lack of a contract has caused dockworkers to slow their labor pace. A complete port shutdown may not be eminent, but port pile-ups have already caused shipping delays.

If a prolonged West Coast port shutdown were to occur, the U.S. economy could stand to lose up to $2.5 billion per day, according to a study released by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the National Retail Federation (NRF) by economists at the Interindustry Forecasting Project at the University of Maryland last month.