Despite the ongoing threat of a strike, nearly 20,000 West coast dockworkers will stay on the job even without a new labor deal, negotiators said in their most recent public statement. The current agreement expired on July 1, but the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) – which represents the dockworkers – has no plans to stage a walk-out at 29 affected ports, although production slowdowns from San Diego to Tacoma remain possible. ILWU officials remain in talks with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), the group that represents port employers.
“While there will be no contract extension, cargo will keep moving, and normal operations will continue at the ports until an agreement can be reached between the PMA and ILWU,” negotiators said in a joint statement last week.
Wages, jurisdictional claims and health care costs remain the key issues in negotiations, with dockworkers fighting to keep their top medical coverage and port employers desiring greater freedom in hiring outside personnel like electricians and computer technicians. Under the current contract, the PMA says ILWU members can make roughly $130,000 per year in their jobs, although the union disputes that number.
West coast dockworkers handle about 44% of container cargo that comes into and out of the U.S., although that figure has decreased in recent years. Even a 10-day port strike would cost the U.S. economy $21 billion and 169,000 jobs, according to trade group reports. A decade ago, President George W. Bush intervened to halt a short port lockout as contentious negotiations failed to produce a deal. The last time the ILWU shut down West coast ports was in 1971.
This year, formal negotiations between the ILWU and the PMA began in San Francisco on May 12, as both sides sought to avoid a protracted standoff. West coast ports suffered after the 2002 lockout, as more shipping companies looked to Canada and Mexico to transport goods.