Unloading a container of bananas at the Port of San Diego. Port photo via Wikimedia Commons
Unloading a container of bananas at the Port of San Diego. Port photo via Wikimedia Commons

Now that nine months of deadlocked negotiations have ended with a tentative agreement, dockworkers at West Coast ports, including San Diego, are expected to be working at full capacity by day’s end Saturday.

Details of the five-year contract covering workers at all 29 West Coast ports were not immediately available. The agreement is subject to ratification by both parties.

The deal was reached late Friday with assistance from U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh.

“After more than nine months of negotiations, we are pleased to have reached an agreement that is good for workers and for the industry,” Pacific Maritime Association President James McKenna and International Longshore and Warehouse Union President Bob McEllrath said in a joint statement.

“We are also pleased that our ports can now resume full operations.”

The tentative deal came in the face of a deadline imposed by Perez, who has been in San Francisco to take part in the negotiations since Tuesday. Perez said late Thursday that if no deal was reached Saturday, the parties would be summoned to Washington, D.C.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was “extremely pleased” a tentative agreement was reached.

Gene Seroka, executive director, Port of Los Angeles said the agreement “will go a long way toward helping to move cargo efficiently through the nation’s busiest container port.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said “Getting this deal done means our ports and our national economy will start moving again.”

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach jointly handle 40 percent of the container traffic entering the United States. At one point as many as 45 ships were waiting to be unloaded.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents port management, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the representative for dockworkers, had been in agreement on on major aspects of the contract — including health care and pay — but there was a lingering disagreement over an arbitrator who has a key role in determining how the future contract would be implemented and enforced.

The months-long labor talks grew increasingly contentious in recent weeks, with the PMA issuing orders to halt the loading and unloading of ships at all West Coast ports during the past two weekends.

The employers contended workers have been conducting an illegal slowdown that has driven down productivity, and they did not want to pay weekend and holiday salary rates for work that is not being done. The ILWU has denied any slowdown.

The PMA also accused the ILWU of attempting to dismiss an arbitrator who found the union guilty of the illegal work slowdowns, with the union seeking a provision that would allow just one party to remove an arbitrator.

California’s two U.S. senators sent a joint letter Wednesday to the PMA and ILWU, urging them to reach an agreement to prevent damage to the economy.

“Every day that goes by without a resolution only adds to the economic pain for the West Coast and the entire country,” Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein wrote.

“This cannot continue. The consequences of failing to resolve this dispute immediately would be devastating to our economy and to the millions of people who work hard every day for agricultural producers, manufacturers and other businesses, both large and small, in California and around the world.”

The fallout of the labor dispute was reflected in numbers released Wednesday by the Port of Long Beach that showed container volumes down in January by 18.8 percent compared with the same month last year.

Economists estimated the stalled talks and work stoppages drained up to $2 billion a day from the U.S. economy.

City News Service contributed to this article.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.