The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents ship management at 29 West Coast ports, said late yesterday that its members overwhelmingly ratified a five-year contract with the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), the next-to-last step to putting an agreement in place and closing an unpleasant chapter in the history of maritime labor relations.
ILWU, which represents about 14,000 workers at ports from Seattle to San Diego, is expected to announce its ratification vote sometime tomorrow, PMA said in a statement. In April, ILWU's leadership caucus voted to recommend that the rank-and-file approve the contract.
The contract would be retroactive to July 1, 2014, and run through June 30, 2019. Both sides have worked without a contract since last July 1.
The proposed new contract features an "enhanced arbitration system...designed to support waterfront stability, capacity growth and productivity," PMA said. It did not provide details. The involvement of arbitrators was one of several sore points during a nine-month contract fight that caused massive backlogs at key ports due to a work slowdown allegedly orchestrated by the ILWU starting in late November. In early February, PMA said ILWU demanded to include contract language giving the union the right to fire any arbitrator who ruled against it. The provision, PMA said at the time, would give the ILWU veto-power over arbitrators' rights to prevent union slowdowns, and would threaten the consistent and reliable movement of cargo through West Coast ports.
Yesterday's PMA statement said the contract would grant ILWU members wage and pension increases, and make changes to the workers' health plan that will foster efficiencies while still maintaining generous worker benefits. PMA did not provide details in its statement and a spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The statement did not mention any work-rule changes that would introduce more automation into the ports' processes. West Coast ports are considered well behind Asian and European ports in their use of productivity-boosting automation.
In the statement, PMA President and CEO Jim McKenna sounded contrite in describing the ordeal that port users endured during the nine-month conflict. "The disruptions that occurred during negotiations, and the inconvenience and hardship created by them, were regrettable," McKenna said. "We look forward to building upon the incredible advantages West Coast ports offer and winning back the trust and confidence of the shipping community. This contract provides important tools to accomplish that."