Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The mayors of Los Angeles and Long Beach hailed the tentative labor agreement between dockworkers and port employers Monday and announced a plan to have their cities work more closely on eliminating cargo congestion at the port complex.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said officials at the two ports “plan to redouble our efforts to invest in port infrastructure, increase trade and ensure that we remain the best place to do business on the West Coast.”

Larger cargo deliveries and recent changes in the way truck trailers are stored and distributed have led to congestion issues at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, a problem that was exacerbated by the labor dispute when the loading and unloading of ships was halted at night and over two recent weekends.

Now that the tentative labor agreement has been reached, the two ports can now focus on better coordinating vessel calls and positioning chassis — the wheeled under-carriage trucks use to haul containers — to ensure they are available when needed, the mayors said.

“Our ports share second-to-none infrastructure, a highly skilled labor force and unparalleled industry assets, and by working together, we can maximize our global competitiveness and local economic impact,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

The efficiency plan was submitted to the Federal Maritime Commission.

The two ports handle 70 percent of the cargo that arrives on the West Coast, officials said.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents dockworkers at West Coast ports, reached a tentative labor agreement Friday with the Pacific Maritime Association, the representative for port employers, potentially ending nine months of contentious negotiations that dramatically slowed cargo operations.

Details of the five-year contract covering workers at all 29 West Coast ports were not immediately available. The agreement is subject to ratification by both parties.

Those close to the talks say the contract calls for a new system for resolving labor conflicts that relies on a panel of arbitrators, rather than a single arbitrator.

While the PMA and ILWU were in agreement on major aspects of the contract — including health care and pay — talks had been held up over a lingering disagreement over an arbitrator who has a key role in determining how the future contract would be implemented and enforced.

A deal was finally reached Friday, following more than nine months of negotiations and with assistance from U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh.

The tentative deal came in the face of a deadline imposed by Perez, who said that if no deal was reached Friday, the parties would be summoned to Washington, D.C. Perez had been in San Francisco since Tuesday to take part in the negotiations.

The months-long labor talks grew increasingly contentious in recent weeks, with the PMA issuing orders to halt the loading and unloading of ships at all West Coast ports during the past two weekends.

The employers contended workers have been conducting an illegal slowdown that has driven down productivity, and they did not want to pay weekend and holiday salary rates for work that is not being done. The ILWU has denied any slowdown.

The PMA also accused the ILWU of attempting to dismiss an arbitrator who found the union guilty of the illegal work slowdowns, with the union seeking a provision that would allow just one party to remove an arbitrator.

The fallout of the labor dispute was reflected in numbers released last week by the Port of Long Beach that showed container volumes down in January by 18.8 percent compared with the same month last year.

City News Service

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