West Coast Longshoremen Will Seek New Contract in 2022
U.S. West Coast ports and terminal operators are heading into their first round of contract negotiations in eight years with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Bloomberg News is reporting having seen an exchange of letters between the union and the Pacific Maritime Association confirming what most industry analysts expected which is that the union wants a new collective bargaining agreement with the employers.
The union, which represents an estimated 20,000 dockworkers at 29 ports in California, Oregon, and Washington, has not conducted contract negotiations with the PMA since 2014. Three years later, union members voted to accept a three-year extension for the contract to July 1, 2022, in exchange for increases in wages and pensions while maintaining health benefits at current levels.
Even before the current round of backlogs and congestion at the ports, the union had been posturing for a new contract. Bloomberg reports that the PMA, whose board is largely made up of the ocean carriers, wrote to the ILA proposing a one-year extension citing the current difficulties in the supply chain and the importance of maintaining stable operations at this time. The PMA also alluded to the fear in the industry that contract negotiations could lead to disruptions for carriers at ports that are already overwhelmed by the surge in imports.
There is a long history of contentious labor negotiations and disruptions at the ports. The union staged nine months of slowdowns during the last contract negotiations. Experts point out that there were disruptions tied to each of the bargaining efforts over the past 30 years.
The ILWA declined the PWA’s recent proposal for the one-year extension citing the important role of collective bargaining to maintain the attractiveness of the profession. They cited the shortages of workers in other segments from warehouses to truck drivers saying that it is critical to maintain a vital workforce.
In addition to the standard issues of wages and benefits, experts have predicted that the union will likely take a strong stance against automation of port operations. This comes at a time when the ports, terminal operators, carriers, and even the new White House Supply Chain Taskforce have all been emphasizing the importance of investment and technology to provide long-term solutions to the backups in the supply chain. The ILWU in past contracts made concessions on elements such as digitization and the use of automated movers in the ports but recently has fought new automation efforts. This year they delayed efforts at automation by a Port of Long Beach terminal operator, TTI, and before that also opposed efforts by AMP at the Port of Los Angeles. Some experts have speculated that the ILWA might open the new talks seeking rollbacks on some of its prior automation concessions.
The PMA told Bloomberg that it has already submitted its first proposal to the ILWU. They are prepared to meet the union at the negotiation table expecting talks will get underway by the spring of 2022.