LOS ANGELES (AP) — The contract that keeps thousands of dockworkers on the job at ports from San Diego to Seattle expired Tuesday afternoon, but both sides pledged to continue negotiations without a disruption in the billions of dollars of trade that crosses the West Coast waterfront.
The union which represents dockworkers and the association which represents shipping lines and terminal operators at 29 ports issued a joint statement saying that while the current six-year contract will not be extended, both sides will keep talking — and working.
"Cargo will keep moving, and normal operations will continue at the ports until an agreement can be reached between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union," the two groups said.
The expiration without a deal was not a surprise. Indeed, no resolution is expected for weeks, with tough issues including whether workers should shoulder more of the hefty cost of health care yet to be resolved.
As talks drag out, jitters will grow among the companies that last year imported or exported nearly $900 billion worth of cargo through West Coast ports.
The union and maritime association acknowledged that labor peace is essential to keeping those ports competitive, especially with larger vessels able to sail from Asia directly to large East Coast markets once an expansion of the Panama Canal is completed.
"Both sides understand the strategic importance of the ports to the local, regional and U.S. economies, and are mindful of the need to finalize a new coast-wide contract as soon as possible to ensure continuing confidence in the West Coast ports and avoid any disruption to the jobs and commerce they support," the joint statement said.