The Pacific Maritime Association, representing shipping lines and terminal operators, and the International Labor and Warehouse Union, representing 20,000 dockworkers, have finally made a deal after nine months of negotiations. The tentative deal on the labor contract finally came in late February after numerous months of slowdowns at the 29 ports along the West Coast. It was only after the Obama administration called on both parties to work together did they reach a tentative agreement. The agreed-upon arrangement will extend the labor contract for the next four years, and there is hope that both sides will ratify the agreement within the next thirty days. For many, trade was at a standstill due to the labor dispute. While the final agreement is yet to be ratified, there is hope that the backlog of vessels will start to get moving.
The port slowdown has been a trying and expensive time for importers as many missed holiday and spring delivery dates, lost sales, and paid air cargo costs or paid for shipments to be diverted to other ports. The port slowdown also affected exports, particularly of agricultural products. According to an official with the Port of Long Beach, it is anticipated that it will take approximately one month to clear out the backlog of vessels, including hundreds of thousands of containers, and three months for the ports to return to some normal operations. What is the new “normal?” Time will tell, but even prior to the April 2014 slowdown, trade was burdened with port congestion.