WASHINGTON — The International Longshore and Warehouse Union moved a step closer Friday to ratifying a deal it reached on a contract with the Pacific Maritime Association in late February that ended a dispute at West Coast ports and cleared the way for idled container ships to unload.

The ILWU’s caucus delegates voted to recommended approval of the five-year contract on Friday. Copies of the agreement will now be mailed to union members who will vote by secret ballot on membership ratification on May 22.

“This agreement required ten months of negotiations – the longest in recent history,” said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath, “but we secured a tentative agreement to maintain good jobs for dockworkers, families and communities from San Diego to Bellingham. Longshore men and women on the docks will now have the final and most important say in the process.”

The 10-month long dispute led to severe congestion and delays at 29 West Coast ports and took a financial toll on U.S. businesses.

The breakthrough came on Feb. 20, when the ILWU and PMA announced they had reached a tentative agreement on a five-year contract. Labor Secretary Tom Perez helped broker the deal in the final hours.

“Since the parties reached the tentative deal in February, congestion at the ports has eased considerably as the shippers and dockworkers have worked together to restore full operations at the 29 West Coast ports,” Perez said Friday. “Continued economic growth and job creation depends on dynamic, fully functioning ports, so moving forward, restoring confidence in the ports must be a priority for all stakeholders.”

“The port operators and dockworkers must work together to demonstrate that the West Coast ports can be among the most efficient and effective ports in the world. I am confident in their commitment to that shared goal, and I applaud their willingness to put an end to their dispute and move forward together,” he added.

“We look forward to the rank-and-file vote and final ratification so that the 29 West Coast ports can resume normal operations,” Juanita Duggan, president and chief executive officer at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said. “Having a five-year contract in place provides the companies we represent with a degree of certainty. Over half of all clothing and shoes sold in the United States are imported through West Coast ports.”

“It’s important for us to close this chapter, not only because we need our ports to be open and operational, but also for other systemic issues to be addressed — issues like how to handle the influx of big ships,” Duggan added.