LOS ANGELES (AP) — Negotiators have agreed to a tentative contract covering West Coast dockworkers, likely ending a protracted labor dispute that has snarled international trade at seaports handling about $1 trillion worth of cargo annually.
The breakthrough came after nine months of negotiations that turned contentious in the fall, when dockworkers and their employers began blaming each other for problems getting imports to consumers and exports overseas.
Dockworkers union spokesman Craig Merrilees confirmed the agreement Friday evening. It must be approved by the 13,000-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which works 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle.
Talks began in May, and the prior six-year contract expired July 1. By November, agricultural exporters said some goods were spoiling before they reached market, and U.S. retailers said their products were stuck on the docks.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez says that dockworkers will return to West Coast ports Saturday evening.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Perez said that both the dockworkers' union and their employers agreed to resume weekend work now that they have reached a new contract.
Perez says: "I suspect that people will be getting a lot of overtime in the days ahead."
Gov. Jay Inslee released this statement about the tentative agreement:
"This is great news for businesses and port workers all along the West Coast. I want to thank the ILWU (union) and the PMA (shippers) for finding an agreement in principle tonight to settle the dispute that was damaging Washington's economy.
"I also want to thank President Obama and Labor Secretary Perez for stepping in and helping get the parties to reach an agreement. I expect we will soon see Washington's ports once again playing their essential role in our economy."