LOS ANGELES — Cargo continues to move unimpeded through West Coast ports, even though labor contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association remain adversarial.

On Wednesday, after several hundred union members demonstrated outside PMA’s San Francisco headquarters, ILWU delegates voted unanimously to reject the PMA’s labor contract proposal.

The action comes after shipping companies rejected a union proposal, submitted July 18, which would allow PMA to automate and cut certain union jobs in return for establishing new union positions at off-dock terminals. These new terminals, essentially container yards established a short distance from crowded ports, are currently staffed by non-union workers. PMA called that proposal insufficient.

ILWU spokesman Steve Stallone said the union rejected PMA’s counter proposal because it would undermine current health benefits and because it failed to address the status of jobs at the off-dock terminals.

The three-year labor contract expired July 1, but has been extended on a day-to-day basis since. Contract negotiations started May 13 and are likely to resume next week, after the union’s week-long caucus ends.

Neither side would predict when a new contract might be reached, but industry players said the fact there are proposals being exchanged is itself a positive sign.

"It seems they are far enough along to at least have some common ground to base these [proposals] on," noted Cliff Katab, a freight specialist with Gale Triangle.

Robert Krieger, president of freight consolidator Norman Krieger, said ships coming in now from Asia are heavily loaded, indicating the industry is betting against a crisis.

"I’m optimistic because people are talking and reasoning," he said.

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