Progress reported in West Coast port talks

An employer group says it has reached a tentative agreement with the dockworkers union over truck trailers

An employer group representing shipping lines and West Coast port terminals said it has reached a tentative agreement with the dockworkers union on a major issue in contentious contract negotiations.

The talks, now in their ninth month, have grown increasingly heated since November as the union and employers accuse each other of creating severe congestion at West Coast ports, including at the nation's busiest complex in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

On Monday, 16 ships were anchored off Los Angeles and Long Beach, waiting for the docks to clear, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the employer group Pacific Maritime Assn., said Monday that the two sides came to a tentative deal over chassis — the trailers that truckers use to haul containers from the ports. He didn't provide details.

Issues over maintenance and repair of the truck trailers became a major sticking point in negotiations. Under the previous contract, the union had a right to do much of the work maintaining and repairing the equipment.

Historically, shipping lines provided the trailers to truckers, but in recent years they have exited the business and unloaded the equipment to third-party leasing companies. But unlike the shipping lines, the leasing firms do not negotiate a contract with the dockworkers union, complicating negotiations this time around.

A spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union declined to comment.

It's unclear what issues remain. The two sides reached a tentative agreement on healthcare in August. In late December, employers said topics unresolved included wages, pensions, work rules and jurisdiction, labor parlance for which jobs union members have a right to perform.

A six-year agreement for about 20,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports expired in July. A federal mediator has been involved in the talks since early January.

With a tentative agreement over chassis, "the hope is the negotiations pace will pick up and that we can get closer to a contract," Getzug said.

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