West Coast dockers, employers back at bargaining table
Officials from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association returned to the bargaining table on Wednesday to continue working toward a new contract for nearly 26,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports.
It was the first face-to-face meeting for negotiators since the break for the July 4 holiday. While the two sides remained in contact, negotiators spent Monday and Tuesday in internal meetings with their own teams. Talks are scheduled for the rest of this week.
Though the current contract expired July 1 and has not been formally extended, dockworkers have continued to report to work as usual on the recommendation of the union leadership.
On July 1, the union told members that while most procedures and operations would continue as usual, the lack of a formal extension precludes any arbitration process over disputes occurring after the contract expiration. While some industry watchers have suggested that the lack of a contract extension could somehow lead to a slowdown by union members, and from there escalate into a strike or work stoppage, West Coast ports report that operations continue as normal.
Negotiations, which began in March, have reportedly been slow but very businesslike. ILWU and PMA officials have said publicly that they are confident that a settlement can be reached in a timely fashion with no disruption to activities at West Coast ports.
Three weeks ago, both sides reported surmounting a major hurdle in the talks with the initial approval by negotiators of a tentative health care benefit agreement. Maintaining the current health care package for its members was a primary goal of the ILWU's negotiating platform going into the talks.
Negotiators are still working to reach agreement on several major topics, including wages, pensions and safety rules.
ILWU negotiators are hoping that next several days of negotiations will give them something to present to a 100-delegate ILWU caucus that meets next week. The caucus was scheduled early last month and ILWU officials said at the time that they had hoped to have a tentative contract in hand to present to the delegates. ' Keith Higginbotham