Contract for West Coast ports ratifiedContract for West Coast ports ratified
Senate introduces bill to help prevent future port shutdowns.
May 22, 2015
THE members of the Pacific Maritime Assn. (PMA) have voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new five-year contract with the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU).
The contract, if ratified by ILWU, would be retroactive to July 1, 2014, and runs through June 30, 2019.
The contract features an enhanced arbitration system designed to support waterfront stability, capacity growth and productivity, which is especially important given the increasingly competitive environment West Coast ports face now and into the future from such factors as the anticipated opening of the expanded Panama Canal, among others.
"The West Coast ports are an economic engine for the United States, supporting millions of workers and trillions in economic impact," PMA president and chief executive officer Jim McKenna said. "The disruptions that occurred during negotiations, and the inconvenience and hardship created by them, were regrettable. We look forward to building upon the incredible advantages West Coast ports offer and winning back the trust and confidence of the shipping community. This contract provides important tools to accomplish that."
The agreement also features wage and pension increases for ILWU members.
In April, delegates of the ILWU Coast Longshore Caucus recommended that its members approve the deal. A secret ballot membership ratification vote was the final step in the process, with final tallies collected on May 22.
At the beginning of May, the Agricultural Marketing Service reported that the longest-ever period of disruptions at West Coast container ports appeared to be over, with a return to normal vessel activity and the container ship backlog dramatically improved (Feedstuffs, May 18).
At the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) board of directors meeting in San Antonio, Texas, USMEF president and CEO Philip Seng reported that the West Coast port congestion that slowed exports earlier this year has been largely resolved, but the industry is still feeling some impact.
Competitors — especially European pork suppliers and exporters of Australian beef, whose price advantage was already buoyed by weakened currencies — were quick to capitalize on this situation in key Asian markets.
Container traffic in some ports still has not returned to normal, said Roger Brummett, USMEF director from Iowa and chair of the Iowa Beef Industry Council.
"However, the new labor contract agreement definitely sent positive signals to our Asian buyers and allowed the U.S. meat industry to begin the process of putting this crisis behind us," he added. "The momentum exports regained in February is encouraging, and we're looking forward to further improvement when March results are published."
In response to the disruption experienced at West Coast ports, a bill was introduced in the Senate to help federal authorities and Congress know when labor disputes are beginning to affect productivity at ports.
The Port Performance Act (S. 1298), introduced by Sens. John Thune (R., S.D.), Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), Deb Fischer (R., Neb.) and Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), would require key performance metrics to be collected at major ports and would mandate reports from several federal agencies when the data show declines in exports at those ports immediately before and after labor agreements expire.
The intent is to help inform a decision on whether a slowdown is occurring and determine the impact on the ports.
A press release on the bill cited estimates indicating that the recent nine-month labor dispute at 29 West Coast container ports cost the economy up to $2.5 billion per day, and the resulting strife was widely cited as a contributing cause to the U.S. economy's anemic 0.2% annual growth rate in the first quarter of 2015.
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