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What’s Going on With West Coast Port Labor Talks?

On Thursday, the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) announced that it had reached a tentative agreement with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) “on certain key issues,” with both sides agreeing “not to discuss the terms” while negotiations continue.

“[T]alks are continuing on an ongoing basis until an agreement is reached” regarding health benefits, as well as the broader collective bargaining agreement covering 22,000 longshore workers at 29 U.S. West Coast ports, the statement continued. The two sides committed to sharing major negotiation milestones in the future, but won’t provide more detailed public statements.

The announcement comes a week after the PMA blamed Local 13, the union’s largest West Coast chapter, for disrupting operations at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. On April 13, PMA said Local 13 “unilaterally delayed the standard dispatch process, which is jointly administered by PMA and the ILWU, and refused to allow PMA’s participation in the labor dispatch process.” That forced work to stop, with certain cargo equipment taken out of operation at “some of the largest and most active terminals in the United States,” PMA alleged.

Ahead of Easter, reports indicated that port operations came to a halt when Local 13 crane operators and top handler drivers rejected their second shift assignments on April 6. Terminals at both gateways were said to have closed overnight with operations resuming the following evening. Local 13 said that some union members celebrated the holiday with their family, while others attended a monthly membership meeting. The union said longshore workers were “still hard at work” despite reports of terminal shutdowns. “Cargo operations are ongoing as longshore workers at the Ports remain on the job,” an April 7 statement said.

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The recent tension suggests the labor union and the San Francisco-based group representing West Coast shipping industry employers, including over 70 carriers and terminal operators, aren’t likely to reach a new agreement anytime soon. Their previous labor deal expired on July 1, 2022. Negotiations for a new agreement began in May, when both sides said they wouldn’t discuss the negotiations with the media.

They haven’t always stuck to that promise, however. Less than a month after saying they remained “hopeful of reaching a deal soon” in February, the PMA said Local 13 dockworkers’ lunch break habits delayed truckers at the San Pedro Bay port complex.

Thursday’s development suggests they’re renewing their effort to cooperate. “The ILWU and PMA meet regularly in San Francisco to continue negotiating the collective bargaining agreement and are committed to reaching an agreement,” the statement said.