After more than nine months of negotiations, The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) agreed to a tentative five-year agreement on February 20.  However, the contract still has to be ratified by the two parties.

The ILWU will be holding a week-long caucus meeting scheduled March 30 through April 3.  The 90 delegates will reviewed the tentative agreement and decide whether to recommend the pact to the rank and file ILWU members for approval.  If the delegates recommend approval of the deal, the proposed contract will be mailed to each member of the ILWU.  Local meetings will follow and finally a secret ballot ratification election will be held.  No dates beyond the March 30 meeting have been said, although The PMA has said they believe they will be able to have the contract ratified with the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile,  employers and shippers are complaining that longshoremen in Oakland are engaging in illegal work stoppages despite the tentative agreement reached last month between the ILWU and PMA. In a statement, the PMA said ILWU Local 10 has “repeatedly engaged in illegal work stoppages at the Port of Oakland, bringing operations to a standstill at Oakland International Container Terminal, the largest terminal in the port.”  These repeated work stoppages by Local 10, which run counter to the tentative agreement reached after more than nine months of negotiations, are the sort of counterproductive activity that has become commonplace in Oakland over the years.”

Some voices are calling for change, saying the system of negotiating longshore labor contracts must change to ensure such disruptions that have occurred in the last nine months will not happen again. National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay said, while speaking at a conference this week, that it was unreasonable to allow a small group of people to jeopardize the livelihoods of so many attached to retailers and manufacturers that rely on the smooth functioning of ports. “Enough is enough.  The ongoing uncertainly and unpredictability from labor negotiations every few years can’t be standard operating procedure.”

The third-ranking Senate Republican Senator John Thune (SD) this week floated the idea of putting unionized port employees under the purview of the Railway Labor Act, a move proponents say would prevent longshore labor showdowns like those just seen on the West Coast.

U.S. containerized imports in 2015 will increase only 1.7 percent, dragged down by West Coast port congestion, Journal of Commerce Economist Mario Morento said this week.  Industry analyst say it will take two to three months to clear out the dozens of ships that are stuck at anchor, and the container backlogs that have built up in Seattle-Tacoma, Oakland, and Los Angeles-Long Beach.  The congestion is so sever that it will tax the ability of marine terminals, longshore labor, truck drivers, and equipment providers to clear out the backlogs while attempting to handle new vessel arrivals each week.