ILWU Update on Contract Talks: Tentative Agreement Reached

By Kelly McConnell

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) announced that it has reached a tentative agreement with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) on a new six-year contract.

The union and the employer previously announced on July 26, 2022, that they had reached a tentative agreement on terms for the maintenance of health benefits. The parties also issued a joint press release on February 23, 2023, announcing that an agreement had been reached on health benefits and other non-wage issues.

The collective bargaining agreement that the ILWU and PMA negotiated covers more than 22,000 longshore workers at 29 U.S. West Coast ports. The previous agreement expired on July 1, 2022, and talks began on May 10, 2022. The ILWU and PMA meet regularly in San Francisco to continue negotiating the collective bargaining agreement.

Historically, automation has been a key issue of longshore negotiations. Containerization, the most modern form of intermodal shipping, has meant loss of jobs. From the ports, containers are transported by train and truck across the country. There is less loading and unloading that is necessary. Everything is shipped in containers that are moved by machines. Cranes require human operators. Automation at the Long Beach Container Terminal and the Port of Los Angeles’ TraPac terminal has eliminated 535,848 hours and $41.8 million in wages annually for dockworkers, even as production at ports that are automated is typically lower than at those that aren’t, for example (Torrance Daily Breeze, June 30, 2022). Typical of labor negotiations, wages are an issue. But more contentious is the matter of automation of container-handling machinery, an emerging trend at ports and terminals throughout the world. (A West Coast port worker union is fighting robots, CNBC Work, July 25, 2022).

Traditionally, the workday in longshoring is 8 hours a day. When workers are dispatched to work ships, it is understood that if a worker’s work is done before 8 hours, they are paid for 8 hours. Many times, workers are called to work a ship and they work as little as one hour and get paid for 8. This is the system that was under attack. New top-loading cranes only require one longshore worker to operate them. Management wants them to operate 10 hours a day or more, which requires two operators. This was one of the sticking points in the negotiations.  The shippers want a new system that requires fewer workers working fewer hours, at the same time that they are making record profits. In essence, these record profits are unpaid wages. Much coverages is made about the salaries being paid to longshore workers, but nothing is being reported about the obscene profits the shipping companies made during the pandemic which ran as high as 1000% in some cases.

Details have not been formally released, but the Wall Street Journal, citing “people familiar with the negotiations,” reported on Thursday that West Coast dockworkers won a 32% pay increase through 2028 and will get a one-time “hero bonus” for working through the pandemic under the tentative contract agreement.

COVID-19 took the lives of several longshore workers and posed additional stress on the workforce which kept cargo moving and handled a months-long surge of imports that often-kept workers on the job for six days a week. The Wall Street Journal article also reported that dockworkers will receive a raise of $4.62 an hour in the first year of the contract — the equivalent of a 10% wage increase — plus an additional $2 an hour in each subsequent year. The wage increases are retroactive to July 1, 2022, when the last contract expired. With this new agreement, the class struggle continues on the waterfront to preserve jobs and the environment.

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