The existing labor contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA)—the group representing port employers—is set to expire in just three days’ time. Why does that matter?
According to the International Business Times, contract “negotiations between the PMA and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) have historically been settled within a couple of weeks after the contract expires… but protracted and ugly showdowns have sometimes happened in the past.” Back in 2002, contract negotiations “lasted for months before the White House intervened to end a 10-day lockout.” The delay slowed port activity through the west coast, severely impacting trade operations.
What is preventing the ILWU and PMA from reaching a contract agreement? Obamacare, of course.
From the International Business Times,
“The ILWU is fighting to keep its current health care benefits despite the estimated annual $190 million increase to their plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that neither side in the negotiations wants to absorb. The union also expects guarantees to its jurisdiction over waterfront activities by other unions or outside contract labor. Last year, the ILWU pulled out of the AFL-CIO after it accused the umbrella union of displacing its members at a new grain terminal in Longview, Washington.
“The PMA is pushing back on the ILWU’s jurisdiction claims and wants the freedom to bring in electricians, mechanics and computer technicians to perform duties it says ILUW workers aren’t qualified to do. The employers also want to increase the work day by an hour. The PMA says costs have to be kept in line in order to retain business that could shift to other destinations.”
A recent study found that a 20 day strike by the Longshoremen—that’s 13,000 West Coast dockworkers at 30 ports from San Diego to Anacortes—would “reduce the U.S. gross domestic product $2.5 billion a day; disrupt 405,000 jobs; and cost the average household $366 in purchasing power.”
The ILWU’s impending strike would be the second in less than a year to negatively impact the Puget Sound’s economy. In August of 2013, a labor dispute between ILWU Local 19 in Seattle and Seattle Tunnel Partners resulted in a costly one month long delay in the $1.4 billion dollar Highway 99 tunnel project. In that case, the dispute was over four jobs moving excavated dirt along a conveyor belt to barges—jobs the ILWU felt fell under its “territory.”