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West Coast labor talks resume after T-5 dispute temporarily set aside

Home News West Coast labor talks resume after T-5 dispute temporarily set aside

West Coast labor talks resume after T-5 dispute temporarily set aside

West Coast dockworkers and marine terminal employers resumed negotiations this week on a new contract after agreeing to set aside, for now, a controversial jurisdictional issue involving Terminal 5 in Seattle that has kept talks at a standstill for nine months.

Several sources close to the negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) told the Journal of Commerce the two sides discussed terminal automation, health and safety, and wages, issues that have received little attention since the coastwide contract negotiations began last May 10.

The PMA and ILWU did not respond to emails seeking comment.

The fact negotiators are discussing issues beyond the T-5 jurisdictional dispute between the ILWU and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) is considered a major development. The dispute is in the hands of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), although an IAM source said it’s not known when the NLRB might rule.

The resumption of negotiations can also be viewed as a case of both sides feeling external pressure to get a deal done, especially with recent talk of bringing in Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh to oversee the talks. Potentially complicating matters further, Walsh is reportedly leaving his post to head the players union of the National Hockey League, according to several media outlets.

Pressure is also coming from port and terminal stakeholders who are growing increasingly displeased at the cargo bleed from West Coast ports as shippers divert their imports to avoid potential disruption linked to the contract talks.

The ILWU and PMA have reportedly made progress on an arbitration process that would discourage future T-5-type incidents by requiring terminal operators to declare a preference for the ILWU when union jurisdiction is being challenged. It is not clear yet how this would differ from language in the 2008 contract that also required employees to state a preference for the ILWU over other unions, a clause the ILWU argues was the quid pro quo in return for it agreeing to allow automation at West Coast terminals. It was the union’s view that SSA Marine was not faithful to this clause, allowing the IAM to staff the jobs at the T-5 terminal and triggering the dispute that has dragged out the current coastwide negotiations.

ILWU job actions disrupting cargo handling 

During the nine-month-long impasse in negotiations, dockworkers have engaged in on-again, off-again job actions at ports in Southern California, Northern California, and the Pacific Northwest that, although limited in scope and duration, have nonetheless caused disruptions in cargo handling, according to shippers, truckers, and terminal operators. Since the “no-strike” clause in the coastwide contract became null and void with the expiration of the previous deal last July 1, arbitrators cannot be called in to rule on the legality of any job actions until a contract settlement is reached.

Source: Journal of Commerce

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