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West Coast Ports and Union Reach Tentative Deal

June 16, 2023 Kevin Baxter

Port of Seattle

Less than two weeks after tensions between the dockworkers union and management at West Coast ports appeared to escalate, the sides have agreed to a tentative labor deal. A joint press release from the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) and the PMA (Pacific Maritime Association) Wednesday announced that the new six-year contract would cover approximately 22,000 workers at all 29 West Coast ports.

The contract must still be ratified by both parties, and both sides have agreed not to release any details until and if ratification occurs. The last labor deal expired July 1, but workers remained on the job as negotiations continued. The primary issue raised by the union throughout has been salary, with ILWU representatives voicing a desire that workers' compensation align with revenue gains and profits made by the companies the PMA represents over the past couple of years in particular - especially in light of pandemic-related work demands.

What happens next?

The ILWU ratification process involves a contract caucus convening delegates from each port's local chapter who will then review the tentative agreement and make a recommendation to rank and file members. Then, all members will vote on the agreement. The review and vote is expected to take a few months. While the two sides are not offering specifics, ILWU President Willie Adams and PMA President James McKenna released a joint statement, saying, “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. We are also pleased to turn our full attention back to the operation of the West Coast Ports.”

Both sides credit Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su for her assistance making the deal come together. Su released a statement of her own, praising the collective bargaining process. "Thanks to the hard work and perseverance of the leadership of the ILWU and the PMA, the tentative agreement delivers important stability for workers, for employers and for our country’s supply chain," Su said. "This important milestone is welcome news to all, and on behalf of President Biden, we are pleased to congratulate both parties on what they have achieved."

West Coast ports have seen a shift in volume, partially due to the ongoing labor unrest, and even the traditionally busiest ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach saw cargo head to ports like Houston or those on the East Coast. It remains to be seen if the tentative deal will lead to a shift back with import volume remaining well down from last year.

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