WWD.com/business-news/government-trade/port-talks-seen-extending-past-deadline-7780307/

LOS ANGELES — Negotiations over a key labor contract covering more than 13,700 workers at 30 West Coast ports were expected to continue past their deadline Tuesday.

This story first appeared in the July 2, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While the six-year contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association expired at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, as of press time the two parties representing dockworkers and waterfront employers were seen as likely to continue talks through the middle of this month. Operations are set to continue at the ports in Washington, Oregon and California.

Importers have been rushing to get their goods through the ports just in case the talks devolve into a strike, which would have an estimated economic toll of as much as $2.5 billion a day.

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Aside from the excise tax for the Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect in 2018 and could add $150 million to health care costs, the ILWU and PMA are discussing a number of issues affecting benefits and technological changes that impact the ports’ competitiveness. As ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles, the two busiest in the U.S., begin automating certain jobs with robotic systems, the ILWU and PMA must grapple with workers’ roles, education and safety issues.

According to the PMA, the West Coast ports handled more than 15.6 million 20-foot equivalent units and paid approximately $1.37 billion in wages in 2013. The association also said it paid $93,200 in benefits to each registered worker last year. Still, the West Coast ports’ share of North American container volume has fallen to 43.5 percent in 2013 from 48.6 percent in 2008, the PMA said.

“The overarching focus right now is the competitiveness of the West Coast ports, given the loss in market share to the East Coast,” said Wade Gates, a spokesman for the PMA, which represents 72 members, including Maersk Inc., California United Terminals and Hyundai Merchant Marine Inc.

Wages for longshoremen start at $25 an hour and go up to $40 an hour. While clerks and foremen are also employed at the ports, longshoremen make up the majority of the workforce.