ILWU & PMA Finally Resume Contract Negotiations

 In ILWU, ILWU contract, ILWU Contract Negotiation, ILWU contract negotiations, ILWU Negotiations, International Shipping, ocean freight, ocean shipping, PMA

At last there’s news about the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) contract negotiations. After months of being completely stalled, negotiations have reportedly resumed. Bill Mongelluzzo reported in the Journal of Commerce (JOC):

West Coast dockworkers and marine terminal employers resumed negotiations this week on a new contract after agreeing to set aside, for now, a controversial jurisdictional issue involving Terminal 5 in Seattle that has kept talks at a standstill for nine months.

Crawling Negotiations

Back on July 1st of last year, ILWU’s master contract with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), the union’s employers at the West Coast ports, expired. Though contract negotiations technically started in May, there has been virtually no progress.

ILWU PMA meet about contract extension

No one expects much progress in the initial months of negotiations. The ILWU has no real interest in reaching new agreements before the previous contracts expire because that would weaken its bargaining position. Once the contract expires, the ILWU has much more ability to utilize slowdowns, threats of strike, and even actual strikes to gain leverage in negotiations.

The ILWU’s lack of interest in real negotiations in May and June was evident in shipping industry news reporting. In fact, the union even initiated a suspension of negotiations in May. That suspension was just a tiny glimpse into how these negotiations would go. Even after July’s expiration of the contract, no serious effort from the ILWU to negotiate a new contract became evident, but the parties had agreed not to communicate with the press about negotiations. All that did was make negotiations even more opaque from the outside.

Halting Issues

There was high expectation for these negotiations to become contentious over the issue of automation. The automation dispute did surface publicly early on. However, it was the jurisdictional fight in Seattle that the JOC quote above alluded to that has really halted negotiations so far.

That jurisdictional issue does relate to automation. The ILWU says it allowed some port automation in 2008’s master contract in a quid pro quo deal where the PMA would support the ILWU in any union jurisdictional matters. It claims that the PMA failed to do so in Seattle, making even what automation the ports have put in place illegitimate.

There have been some port slowdowns and disruptions executed by branches of the ILWU during these months of negotiations, but shippers diverting cargo from West Coast ports along with cargo volume reduction from economic downturn have mitigated the labor disruption. The biggest story of the ILWU contract negotiations has been the union suspending talks over the Seattle terminal jurisdictional dispute. Previously, the union said it would resume talks once a decision has been made on the legal case over the issue there. There’s no telling how long that could take.

Resumed Talks Sound Real

It’s definitely good news to see reporting that the parties are back at the negotiating table. It sounds like they’re discussing real issues, even the one at the top of the difficulty list according to Mongelluzzo’s JOC article:

Several sources close to the negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) told the Journal of Commerce the two sides discussed terminal automation, health and safety, and wages, issues that have received little attention since the coastwide contract negotiations began last May 10.  

What Caused Negotiations to Resume?

The longer negotiations drag on, the more pressure comes to get a deal done. That includes increasing chances of federal intervention coming into play. Mongelluzzo hits on that in his article:

The resumption of negotiations can also be viewed as a case of both sides feeling external pressure to get a deal done, especially with recent talk of bringing in Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh to oversee the talks. Potentially complicating matters further, Walsh is reportedly leaving his post to head the players union of the National Hockey League, according to several media outlets.

Perhaps, however, it’s another thing Mongelluzzo writes about that has finally gotten the ILWU and PMA to start negotiating the real issues of the contract. Mongelluzzo says the parties have made progress on how to handle these union jurisdictional issues:

The ILWU and PMA have reportedly made progress on an arbitration process that would discourage future T-5-type incidents by requiring terminal operators to declare a preference for the ILWU when union jurisdiction is being challenged. It is not clear yet how this would differ from language in the 2008 contract that also required employees to state a preference for the ILWU over other unions, a clause the ILWU argues was the quid pro quo in return for it agreeing to allow automation at West Coast terminals. It was the union’s view that SSA Marine was not faithful to this clause, allowing the IAM to staff the jobs at the T-5 terminal and triggering the dispute that has dragged out the current coastwide negotiations. 

Since that jurisdictional issue is what has been reportedly stalling negotiations, it would make sense that reaching some kind of agreement there would allow contract negotiations to resume.

Things Just Getting Started?

Unfortunately, we’re now in the tenth month since negotiations began with seemingly little real negotiation having taken place. It’s almost like going back to the beginning of negotiations almost a year after they start. That means contention over issues like automation remain high. The threat of labor disruption at West Coast ports remains high. And there’s no telling how long things will drag on.

If you want to dive deeper on how these negotiations have progressed (or not progressed), here are Universal Cargo posts covering the ILWU contract talks from most recent to before they even started:

ILWU Negotiations Help NY/NJ Surpass LA/LB as Busiest U.S. Port

Strap In Shippers: ILWU Contract Negotiations Look to Be Long & Bumpy Road

More ILWU Port Disruption & Terminals Cutting Man-Hours as Contentious Contract Negotiations Drag

ILWU Contract Negotiations Suspended

ILWU Slows Oakland & Seattle Port Operations

ILWU Labor Action Occurs as Contract Negotiations Look Bad

ILWU Contract Negotiations Stalled Over Union Jurisdiction

Slowing Economy Should Lower Freight Rates But 3 Factors Could Keep Them High

Truckers, with ILWU Assist, Disrupt Port of Oakland Over AB 5

What’s Happening at Ports During ILWU Negotiations?

ILWU & PMA Speak About Contract Negotiations

Shippers Beg Biden to Help Make ILWU Contract Negotiations Go Smoothly

UH-OH – ILWU Contract Negotiations Suspended Till June

SHIPPERS BEWARE: ILWU & PMA Automation Fight Already Starting

3 Ways To Protect Your Supply Chain from Likely ILWU Port Disruption

ILWU & PMA Likely Heading for Fight that Will Cost Shippers


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