Although the dockworkers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the port operators of the Pacific Maritime Union have not reached agreement, cargo is continuing to flow into West Coast ports unimpeded.
Despite the absence of a contract, 2014 has been — so far — the smoothest ILWU-PMA negotiation in recent memory. More so than in 2008, when the PMA issued numerous statements between May and late July when the contract was signed, criticizing the union for strikes, slowdowns, and other tactics that impacted cargo movements up and down the coast. And far more so than in 2002, when the entire coast was shut down for 10 days in a management-led lockout that followed extensive disruptions that employers felt were in violation of the then-existing contract.
Such hostility, in action and words, has been mostly absent this year. In fact, unlike in 2008, the PMA and the ILWU in joint statements repeatedly have pledged to keep ports operating during negotiations, almost every one containing the line, “both parties have pledged to keep cargo moving.” What disruptions and job actions have occurred have been primarily related to side issues, including an effort by Teamsters to organize port truckers, a dispute over the jurisdiction of reefer containers in Portland, Oregon, and the implementation of an automation plan in Los Angeles.
ILWU members have traditionally been more concerned about their own wages and benefits than the competitive standing of West Coast ports, but increased competition, with Canadian and Mexican ports taking market share from the U.S., and the looming expansion of the Panama Canal provide both sides with incentive to reach a deal and keep working. Time will tell.