LOS ANGELES (AFP) – US West Coast dockworkers and port operators have reached a tentative deal on a new labour contract, officials said late Friday, averting a shutdown that would have hit about half the country’s trade.
The tentative five-year agreement, details of which were not immediately available, should free up operations at the ports, with business “restored to full capacity” beginning Saturday evening, Labour Secretary Thomas Perez told a conference call.
Operations had slowed significantly since the labour contract expired in July at key ports for trade with Asia.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), representing 20,000 dockworkers, still must approve the deal with the Pacific Maritime Association, representing management for all 29 West Coast ports.
The union’s steering committee, however, was unanimous in its support.
“After more than nine months of negotiations, we are pleased to have reached an agreement that is good for workers and for the industry,” PMA president James McKenna and ILWU president Bob McEllrath said in a joint statement.
“We are also pleased that our ports can now resume full operations.”
Perez oversaw four days of negotiations in San Francisco between the two parties.
“There were far too many victims across the country, and that’s why the president sent me here” Perez said Friday.
The labour secretary had warned the two sides to strike a deal for a new dockworker contract now or see talks move to Washington, which would place more federal pressure on the two parties.
The agreement is “a huge relief for our economy – particularly the countless American workers, farmers and businesses that have been affected by the dispute and those facing even greater disruption and costs with further delays,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.
The president called on the two parties to tend to backlogs as they finalise the deal, Earnest added. The National Retail Federation hailed the agreement as well, saying “it is now time for the parties to quickly ratify the deal and immediately focus on clearing out the crisis-level congestion and backlog at the ports.”
“As we welcome today’s news, we must dedicate ourselves to finding a new way to ensure that this nightmare scenario is not repeated again,” added the NRF, the world’s largest retail federation.
Since October, the dockworkers have steadily slowed the processing of incoming and outgoing freight at ports that handle about half of the country’s trade.
In response, the port owners have cancelled shifts and had multiple-day lockouts to deny the longshoremen holiday and overtime pay.