NEW YORK — The rank and file of the International Longshoremen’s Association overwhelmingly approved a new six-year master contract covering some 14,500 waterfront workers late Tuesday night in a vote conducted at ports on the Atlantic and Gulf Coast covered in the agreement.

The ILA negotiated the new contract with United States Maritime Alliance, representing container carriers, direct employers and port associations serving the East and Gulf Coasts of the U.S. The settlement ends more than a year of negotiations between employers and the ILA. With the assistance of the offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, the ILA and USMX negotiated well beyond the original contract deadline of Sept. 30, 2012, agreeing to a series of extensions to keep cargo moving and bargaining continuing rather than engage in a devastating strike or lockout that retailers and apparel brands said would have severely interrupted the flow of imports onto store shelves.

“[The] vote ratifying a new, long-term master labor contract is welcomed news to the nation’s retailers, who have been on pins and needles for the past year due to the possibility of a supply chain disruption along the 14 East and Gulf Coast container ports,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation. “The ILA and United States Maritime Alliance should be commended for reaching [the] pinnacle vote, and doing so without engaging in any disruption, stoppage, lockout or strike.…The nation’s ports are our economic lifeline to the world. Today’s vote will bring much-needed certainty and efficiency to East and Gulf Coast port operations and secure the United States’ position in the global supply chain.”

Much attention throughout negotiations was also paid to the pending local agreement in the Port of New York and New Jersey between the ILA and New York Shipping Association, which was also approved by a better than three-to-one margin.

The contract includes wage increases totaling $3 an hour spread out over the life of the agreement that will, by the final year of the new contract, bring their hourly rate of pay to $35 an hour. Lower tiered workers will see a higher wage percentage increase, as their pay progression scale was shortened to six years from nine years in the new agreement. This translates into a new ILA member earning a base pay of $20 an hour at the start of the six-year contract to reach $35 an hour by the end of the sixth year.

ILA President Harold J. Daggett, who served as the union’s chief negotiator at these negotiations for the first time since he was elected International President in July 2011, said, “We all worked very hard, achieved landmark improvements and protected our members and our union for many years.”

One major area of contention was contract language that protects ILA workers who have been displaced due to new technology and automation. In the new contract, the union won job guarantees for those ILA members displaced and a joint management-ILA committee to continually examine automation’s effect on the ILA workforce. In other areas related to job protection, the ILA successfully negotiated terms that will restrict the outsourcing or subcontracting of ILA jobs to non-ILA employers. Specifically, the ILA will preserve its chassis maintenance and repair jurisdiction and expand major damage criteria to protect even more jobs. The ILA’s national health care plan remains unchanged with benefits secured and funds protected.

Nearly all ILA local agreements on the Atlantic and Gulf Coast also were ratified by ILA members, with the exception of the Ports of Baltimore, Philadelphia and Hampton Roads, Va. Those port areas were permitted to continue negotiating their local agreements and are expected to complete them early next week.

USMX members will vote to ratify the master contract on April 17. The contract settlement comes a year before the expected opening of the expanded Panama Canal, where a surge in commerce at Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports is expected.