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West Coast dockworkers approve new labor contract

West Coast dockworkers approve new labor contract
Shipping containers are stacked up at the Port of Los Angeles in January. A protracted labor dispute at West Coast seaports led to major declines in imports on the Pacific. East and Gulf coast ports saw an uptick in recent months. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)


West Coast dockworkers ratified a labor contract Friday covering 29 ports, ending a year-long process for a new deal that erupted into labor strife on the docks.

The new contract, which the union and shipping companies started negotiating last May, will expire in July 2019. Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union overwhelmingly voted for approval, with 82% giving the contract the go-ahead.

Shipping companies, represented by the Pacific Maritime Assn., ratified the contract earlier this week.

The deal includes wage increases for dockworkers and a new arbitration system to settle disputes between the parties. Changes to that system became a major sticking point in negotiations, causing President Obama to dispatch Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to help end the stalemate that intermittently halted the unloading of cargo at the 29 West Coast gateways.

The union's approval, although expected, is welcome news for the shipping industry, especially West Coast ports that want to win back business that went elsewhere during the labor dispute.

Stalled contract negotiations — along with problems unloading increasingly larger ships — caused prolonged delays for some retailers and others last fall and earlier this year. Vessels backed up off the coast, including outside the country's largest container ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Some businesses chose to route goods by air, or through the East and Gulf coasts, to avoid the floating ship parking lot.

At the height of the crisis there were more than 30 ships anchored off the L.A. and Long Beach ports.

Follow me on Twitter: @khouriandrew

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