PMA and ILWU Announce Tentative Agreement

By Stas Margaronis | June 14, 2023 | AJOT – Ports & Terminals

The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) reached a tentative agreement on Wednesday, June 14, after more than a year of negotiation. The contract between the two expired July 1, 2022 and 22,000 dockworkers have been working in good faith for nearly a year as the two sides hammered out a deal. It is expected that West Coast port operations for all imports/exports/empty returns, will resume normal processing time in the coming weeks.

The tentative six-year contract would cover workers at all 29 West Coast ports on June 14th. The parties gave credit “to the assistance from (Acting) U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su” who was dispatched by President Biden to the San Francisco negotiations on Monday so as to affect a settlement. The parties said they “will not be releasing details of the agreement at this time. The agreement is subject to ratification by both parties”

The announcement added: “We are pleased to have reached an agreement that recognizes the heroic efforts and personal sacrifices of the ILWU workforce in keeping our ports operating,” said PMA President James McKenna and ILWU President Willie Adams in a joint statement. “We are also pleased to turn our full attention back to the operation of the West Coast Ports.”

ILWU Worker Sacrifices During COVID

In February, 2021, James McKenna, President of the Pacific Maritime Association reported that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach had seen the highest number of COVID cases among U.S. West Coast ports and that thirteen longshore workers had so far died.

Protracted Negotiations

The agreement comes after 13 months of negotiations.

Many industry officials believe this delay was avoidable if the ILWU had agreed to a contract last July when its contract with the PMA expired.

At that time, West Coast marine terminals were in much better financial shape than they are today and better able to afford a generous wage increase for longshore workers. This was recognized by industry officials as a testament to ILWU workers who kept West Coast ports operational during the COVID pandemic of 2020-2022 and for those who lost their lives staying on the job.

Since contract negotiations began in May 2022, West Coast terminals have faced a steep decline in container volumes related to a slow-down in Trans-Pacific trade caused by a slower economy and rising inflation.

Shift of West Coast Cargo to East & Gulf Coast Ports

In 2022, a move by shippers to shift cargo from West Coast ports to East and Gulf Coast ports may have accounted for as much as a 15% market loss. This was caused by the delay in reaching a labor agreement creating uncertainty.

The long-term damage to West Coast ports, who lost market share as a result of the labor uncertainty, remains to be seen.