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article imageDockworkers return to U.S. West Coast ports

By Nathan Salant     Feb 28, 2015 in Business
Oakland - All but one of 29 ports on the U.S. West Coast reopened this week after months of wrangling over the terms of a new dockworkers contract.
Lingering disputes between shippers and dockworkers in Oakland kept workers there from their jobs, but 28 other West Coast ports reopened under a deal that took months to negotiate between shippers of the Pacific Maritime Association and thousands of workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Shipping from the U.S. West Coast makes up a quarter of the country's international trade and totals around $1 trillion annually.
On Monday, nine ships were waiting to be unloaded but only one was being worked on, a sign that all grievances had not been settled, according to the Associated Press.
Oakland handles 10 percent of total West Coast trade.
Port spokesman Mike Zampa told the AP that the port had a "temporary shortage of experienced crane operators" but that the problem would be resolved in time for the night shift.
Other Oakland dockworkers were still loading placing containers that had been unloaded onto trucks and train cars, the AP said, after an arbitrator ordered them back to work.
But other West Coast ports appeared to be getting back to normal, although the backlog from the contract dispute could take two or three months to work out — maybe even longer at Los Angeles, the region's largest facility, the AP said.
Dockworkers earn around $50 an hour.
Both sides had promised to keep cargo moving while workers in ports from San Diego to Seattle voted on whether to accept the new deal, a process expected to take two months.
The contentious scene in Oakland seemed in sharp contrast to the self-congratulatory tone of negotiators after a tentative five-year agreement was reached a week ago following marathon talks.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement that is good for workers and for the industry,” Pacific Maritime Association 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,” the statement said, according to the Christian Science Monitor newspaper
Workers reportedly received $1 an hour raises in each of the next five years, continuation of health coverage with no employee contribution and increases in pension benefits, the newspaper said.
But the months of talks had grown so contentious that U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti had to be brought in to help, the newspaper said.
“The parties persevered over a long and challenging process and were ultimately successful in averting any further situations that could have been disruptive to shipping operations and to the nation’s economy,” said Allison Beck, acting director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said last week.
“As a result of their efforts, shippers can expect that normal operations will be restored as soon as possible at our nation’s West Coast ports,” she said.
Officials with the world's largest retail trade association, the National Retail Federation, hailed the settlement and called for changes to the negotiation process to avoid similar situations in the future.
“If we are to truly have modern international trade, supply chain and transportation systems, we must develop a better process for contract negotiations moving forward," the association said in a written statement.
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