Contract negotiations between shippers and 20,000 dockworkers at West Coast ports are progressing toward a tentative agreement in November, the head of the largest harbor said.
Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said he speaks daily with negotiators for both sides on a new accord for ports from San Diego to Bellingham, Washington, which together handle almost half of all U.S. maritime trade.
“Both sides have a mutual respect, which I think is very important,” Seroka said yesterday at a business luncheon in Los Angeles. He said a tentative deal between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, representing management, may be reached within weeks.
Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the union, declined to provide an update on negotiations. Wade Gates, a spokesman for the maritime association, said only that negotiators are at the table in San Francisco, without a timeline for a settlement.
The two sides announced a provisional deal on health-care expenses in late August, without disclosing terms. Another issue is how to retrain and preserve jobs for dockworkers as automation reduces the number of positions, as well as salaries and work rules.
Seroka said a successful outcome is critical to reducing bottlenecks in shipping and trucking at his port and others.
Two cargo ships were anchored at the Port of Los Angeles yesterday afternoon awaiting berths, while four were held up at the neighboring Port of Long Beach, Seroka said in an interview.
Cargo ships have been forced to wait as others are unloaded, and truck and rail connections are delayed. Seroka said contract talks could resolve issues such as where to place empty containers and who’s responsible for fixing truck chassis, both important to moving goods efficiently.
“Port congestion can be fixed if people are willing to roll up their sleeves,” Seroka told an audience of about 100 business leaders.
The Port of Los Angeles accounted for 31.2 percent of tonnage entering the West Coast in 2013, down from 32 percent the year before, according to a report by the maritime association. The Port of Long Beach is the second-largest on the West Coast, accounting for 29.7 percent of volume, the report said.
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