WAITING TO EXHALE: Can the industry breathe a sigh of relief? It’s still too soon to say but early talks between shippers and West Coast dockworkers on a possible labor contract extension at least continue.
A statement from the two parties released in September had said the talks would take place Tuesday and Wednesday. In a succinct, joint statement issued Tuesday the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union confirmed the two parties were meeting to talk about “the concept of a contract extension.”
Little insight was given beyond that other than to say, “Both parties agreed to resume talks at a future date to be mutually agreed upon” and that neither side intended to comment further before the next meeting.
The current contract between the ILWU, which represents about 20,000 dockworkers, and PMA—the group negotiating labor agreements on behalf of shippers and terminal operators—isn’t set to expire until July 1, 2019. However, earlier talks are seen as a way of providing more time for both sides to work out any areas of potential dispute on a new contract well ahead of the expiration. It’s significant with the contract covering 29 ports in the region. Such a plan would avoid any disruption to operations at the West Coast ports, which witnessed first hand from late 2014 and into early 2015 what can happen when a contract expires before a new one is settled upon. That particular dispute caused significant congestion and impacted businesses of retailers, manufacturers and many other industries that rely on the ports to move goods.
Industry businesses in the spring began urging dockworkers and shippers to begin early talks and maintain open dialogue so as to avoid what occurred last year.