Truckers who haul freight out of the nation’s West Coast ports can breath a little easier, at least one day at a time.
Port terminal operators and more than 10,000 union longshoremen have agreed upon an day-by-day extension of a labor pact that keeps the facilities open, at least for the time being.
The news came following the expiration of a labor contract on Monday with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, whose members work at 29 major Pacific ports, from San Diego to Seattle.
Terminal operators say they will not lock out workers, provided they do not engage in a work slowdown. Longshoremen have yet to vote on whether they will strike.
The two sides started talks well before the Monday deadline, trying to hammer out a new three-year labor agreement.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to an agreement is a plan to use automated equipment at the ports to speed up the flow of cargo. Union representatives are concerned that such technology could lead to fewer jobs for their members.
It’s estimated a shutdown of the facilities could cost the nation’s economy an estimated $1 billion a day, including the loss felt by port truckers who serve these facilities.
The last time the sides worked on a labor contract was in 1999, when longshoremen remained on the jobs two weeks after the contract expired while negotiators completed work on a new agreement.
The last strike was in 1971 and was the first since shortly after World War II.
The Bush administration is reported to be monitoring the situation, and presumably could order strikers back to work should they decide to hit the picket lines.