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Negotiators for West Coast Ports Reach Tentative Deal

Friday, 20 February 2015 09:29 PM

Shipping companies and terminal operators clinched a tentative deal with the dockworkers union on Friday, settling a labor dispute that led to months of cargo backups at 29 West Coast ports and snarled trans-Pacific maritime trade with Asia.

The deal, confirmed by a source close to the situation, was reached after U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez arrived in San Francisco this week to help broker negotiations that had dragged on for nine months between the shippers and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

There was no official word from either side that an accord was reached, but Perez scheduled a conference call with reporters for later in the evening to discuss a recent development in the dispute.

Tensions arising from the talks have played out in worsening cargo congestion that has slowed freight traffic at the ports, which handle nearly half of all U.S. maritime trade and more than 70 percent of the nation's imports from Asia.

More recently, the shipping companies have sharply curtailed operations at the marine terminals, suspending loading and unloading of cargo vessels for night shifts, holidays and weekends at the five busiest ports.

Perez was sent to California as an emissary of President Barack Obama, who had come under mounting political pressure to intervene in a conflict that by some estimates could have ended up costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars.

According to big-city mayors briefed by Perez on Thursday, the third day of his involvement, the labor secretary suggested the Obama administration intended to invite leaders from both sides to Washington next week to continue the talks if a deal were not reached on Friday.

The 20,000 dockworkers covered by the tentative labor accord have been without a contract since July.

Bargaining, said to have bogged down earlier this week over the issue of binding arbitration, resumed on Friday after Perez met in the morning with the principals, then exited the talks, according to one source close to the situation. Word of a settlement came hours later.

Disruptions at the ports, blamed by each side on the other, have reverberated throughout the U.S. economy, extending to agriculture, manufacturing, retail and transportation.

Cargo loads that would normally take a few days to clear the ports have faced lag times of two weeks or more as dozens of inbound freighters stacked up at anchor along the coast, waiting for berths to open.

A longer-term concern has been that U.S. export business lost to other countries and ports may not return once the West Coast dock worker crisis ends.

Port officials have said it will take many weeks to clear the immediate backlog of cargo containers piled up on the docks once a settlement is reached, and several months for freight traffic to return to a normal rhythm.

© 2018 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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Shipping companies and terminal operators reached a tentative deal on Friday with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on a new contract for 20,000 dockworkers at 29 U.S. West Coast ports, capping months of contentious labor talks, a source close to the...
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Friday, 20 February 2015 09:29 PM
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