Workers move toward ending dock dispute

The labor dispute between shipping companies and dockworkers that caused a backlog at 29 West Coast ports, including the Port of Oakland, for much of the past year could be nearing an end.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 20,000 workers, said its coast longshore caucus recommended at a meeting in San Francisco today that its members approve a tentative agreement with shipping companies. The agreement was reached on Feb. 20 after 10 months of talks with the assistance of U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

The tentative agreement for a proposed five-year agreement was approved by the ILWU’s 16-member elected negotiating committee and its 8-member safety subcommittee on Feb. 20, when the pact was announced, the union said. All 90 of the union’s delegates to its coast longshore caucus spent this week reviewing the proposed agreement line-by-line, according to the union.

Those delegates voted by a 78 percent margin at a meeting today to recommend it to the union’s membership, the ILWU said. ILWU President Bob McEllrath said in a statement:

“This agreement required 10 months of negotiations, the longest in recent history, but we secured a tentative agreement to maintain good jobs for dockworkers, families and communities from San Diego to Bellingham.”

Copies of the agreement will now be mailed to longshore union members, who will then have a chance to discuss it at local union meetings, the union said. Members will vote in secret ballots and they will be counted on May 22, according to the ILWU.

Port of Oakland officials said this week that a vessel backlog caused by the ongoing labor conflict that had delayed imports and exports in the region has disappeared. Port of Oakland officials said this week marks the first time since January that all ships coming into Oakland have been able to berth there without delay. There are no vessels in the Bay or outside the Golden Gate awaiting berths.

As recently as last month, up to 20 vessels a day were lining up waiting to dock, according to port officials. Port maritime director John Driscoll said in a statement:

“When a ship comes to Oakland, it goes straight to berth and we go straight to work loading and unloading.”

Port officials said most ships are now able to get in and out of Oakland within two days, which is a major improvement from recent months when vessel stays could last four or five days. Cargo owners are now receiving imports from container ships shortly after the boxes are discharged from vessels, port officials said. Until recently, customers could wait weeks for shipments, according to the port.