Labor negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) took a major step forward today as ILWU delegates voted in favor of recommending the tentative five-year agreement with waterfront employers to rank-and-file members. The delegates recommendation to accept the contract – covering 20,000 dockworkers at 29 ports – brings West Coast employers and the union one step closer to alleviating shipper concerns over congestion delays that have cost them at least hundreds of millions of dollars in higher shipping costs and lost productivity. Union members could still reject the tentative contract reached in late February, but with strong public endorsements from the caucus and union leaders, there are slim chances of that happening. The final vote is expected on May 22nd.
This tentative agreement re-affirms employer-paid medical benefits, including the Cadillac tax in the Affordable Health Care Act that will take effect in 2018, and preserves ILWU jurisdiction over chassis inspections, maintenance and repair, even though the owners of the equipment are mostly non-PMA members. The one major change found in the agreement has to do with the arbitration system, which could result in significant changes in how day-to-day health, safety and work-rule disputes are handled at the local ports. Instead of a single arbitrator for the four main port ranges, the process will move to a three-person local arbitration panel, with one member nominated by the ILWU, one by the PMA and one by a neutral arbitrator. The neutral arbitrator on each local panel must be a member of either the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service or the American Arbitration Association, but cannot be a lawyer. Stay tuned for news on the final vote and as the tentative agreement moves towards ratification.