With a labor deal in place, the U.S. supply chain has dodged a bullet. But the biggest challenge, strengthening the nation’s ocean export competitiveness, lies ahead. Labor peace has finally arrived at the West Coast waterfront. But a five-year contract tentatively agreed to late Friday between the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) will, by itself, do little to resolve the problems that faced the seagoing infrastructure long before nine months of talks burst into open warfare and threatened to close the country’s most vital international commerce lane. The tentative contract keeps open the 29 ports that fall under the ILWU’s jurisdiction, and begins the slow process of returning operations to normal and trying to restore the trust—and business—of the many constituents whose livelihood depends on the port network. Contract details were not disclosed because the agreement hasn’t been ratified. Labor and management faced a Friday deadline set by U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez to either reach a deal or shift the venue from California to Washington, D.C., and perhaps have face-to-face chats with President Obama—a scenario neither side wanted. No one disputes the significance of Friday’s events. The last contract expired July 1, and with no contract extension in place a strike or lockout could have happened at any time. An alleged work slowdown by the ILWU—which management said took the form of failing to make skilled crane drivers available to load and unload cargoes at dockside—slowed productivity at key ports to a crawl, leaving stocked vessels stranded in the water or stuck at berths. U.S. exporters, who must use West Coast ports to get their goods to Asian markets, watched as their goods sat—and in some cases rotted—in warehouses because import traffic couldn’t even be unloaded for their shipments to […]
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