Could an ILWU Tentative Agreement Happen in Next Couple Weeks?

 In export, exports, ILWU, ILWU contract, ILWU Contract Negotiation, ILWU Negotiations, import, importing, Imports, International Shipping, Port of Long Beach, Port of Los Angeles, shippers

For the first time in a long time, real positive news on the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) contract negotiations broke yesterday. It was a localized agreement I’ll talk about in a bit because buried in the story, well below the headlining news, was a statement that possibly deserves more attention than the headline.

Bill Mongelluzzo reported in the Journal of Commerce:

Sources close to the coastwide negotiations say they are increasingly optimistic that a tentative agreement could be reached in the next couple of weeks.

This is the first time since contract negotiations began almost a year ago (May 10th, 2022) that a possible resolution to talks could be in sight. Was this buried in the article because it seemed unlikely to Mongelluzzo? Because it’s just optimism about a possible resolution? Has he heard similar statements of optimism in the past that made this one feel like it was worthy of little more than a footnote? Or was he just more focused on the tangible news?

ILWU, PMA Agree on Manning Non-Automated LA-LB Terminals

ILWU PMA meet about contract extension

The solid news item Mongelluzzo reported was “longshore labor and employers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have reached agreement on manning requirements for non-automated terminals.”

Yes, this is a localized issue to the San Pedro Bay port complex, but the issue was reportedly holding up talks. Until that issue was settled, negotiations reportedly were not going to move on to the broader coastwide issues the master contract has to cover.

Stacking Positives

Mongelluzzo stated in his article that the ILWU and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) made an agreement on manning needs for the three automated terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach weeks ago. Perhaps that’s what the ILWU was referring to when it said in a brief statement a couple weeks ago that it had reached “tentative agreement” on “certain key issues.” With the statement being vague, not in tandem with the PMA, and coming off disruptive ILWU labor action, I was quick to conclude the statement didn’t mean much.

Perhaps the statement still doesn’t mean much, and neither does the statement of optimism for a tentative deal in the next couple weeks, but stacking little positives on top of little positives can give reason for a bit of optimism.

Negotiations no longer being held up by the local union jurisdictional fight at the Port of Seattle or the local manning issues at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are certainly positives.

“Coastwide negotiations in San Francisco will now turn in earnest to the two major issues yet to be settled — wages and pension benefits,” Mongelluzzo reported.

Wages and pension benefits, however, are not likely the only issues the ILWU and PMA need to work through.

Automation Still Looms

From long before the negotiations began (on May 10th, 2022), automation was expected to be a major sticking point in talks that would likely hold them up and create contention. History has taught us that contention in ILWU talks tends to lead to congestion at the West Coast ports. Shippers still have cause to be wary.

While the PMA and ILWU have generally kept details of negotiations away from the media, the automation fight did go public early in the process with the sides arguing their point of views on the issue. The ILWU also tied automation into the Terminal-5 drama at the Port of Seattle.

Neither the PMA nor the ILWU has indicated agreement on the larger issue of automation; however, perhaps the reported resolution of manning issues of automated terminals at Southern California’s ports is a good omen on the automation fight. Though shippers probably shouldn’t count on that until a tentative agreement is reached.

One can only hope that happens in the next couple weeks rather than things turning ugly on what the union considers an existential issue as the peak season approaches.

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