West Coast ports to ramp up this weekend as labor deal is reached

Activity at West Coast ports expected to pick up after resolution is reached Friday in labor dispute

After a long-running labor dispute that at times all but closed West Coast ports, the trade gateways--including the nation’s busiest in Los Angeles and Long Beach---are getting back to work. 

On Friday evening, shipping companies and the dockworkers union reached a tentative deal on a new five-year contract, ending nine months of bitter talks.

Both sides said they were “pleased that our ports can now ... resume full operations.”

Jobs at the ports are expected to be light during the day Saturday. But come night, the ports will ramp up operations to normal, said Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, whom President Obama dispatched this week to help broker a deal. 

That’s welcome news for businesses across the country. For months manufacturers, retailers and farmers have taken a hit as the labor dispute and other factors delayed the shipment of needed goods and parts.  

Employer group Pacific Maritime Assn. accused the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of deliberately slowing operations since the fall. And this month--in what they said was a response to slowdowns--employers largely closed the ports on holidays and the weekends, by stopping the unloading and loading of ships.

Nighttime ship unloading in Los Angeles and Long Beach stopped in January. 

Now---with a tentative deal in hand--shipping companies and the union say they want things to return to normal.

But it will take weeks, if not months, to clear the backlog. And the congestion also stemmed from other factors such as a truck trailer shortage and the increased use of ever larger ships. 

Still, trade experts said a new agreement can only help. 

Specifics of the deal, which still must be ratified by union members and individual employers, weren't released.

However, union President Bob McEllrath said his members “got a good wage increase, a good wage package and a good pension package.”  

Employers said earlier this month that they had offered a roughly 3% wage increase each year. Under the previous contract, dockworkers--including nonunion “casual” workers--made between $26 and $41 an hour, before overtime and extra pay for weekends and night work. 

With such added bonuses, the average wage for union members is more than $50 an hour, according to employers. 

The parties also agreed on a new arbitration system, an issue that stalled talks in recent weeks. Perez said the new system would ensure efficiency at the ports and fairness to both parties. 

“The entire country is breathing a sigh of a relief,” Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) said Friday after the deal was announced. “We all benefit – workers, businesses, consumers – from having our ports operating smoothly and keeping cargo moving.”

Twitter: @khouriandrew

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