Port of Los Angeles. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Port of Los Angeles. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

UPDATED --Negotiations for a new labor contract covering nearly 20,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports began Monday in San Francisco in hopes of meeting a June 30 deadline.

The contract is between employers who operate port terminals and shipping lines, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association, and dockworkers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Business groups ranging from the American Trucking Associations, the National Retail Federation and others are hoping the two sides will reach a tentative agreement well before the current contract expires to ease fears of any possible work stoppage by dockworkers or a lockout by port terminal operators.

“With the expiration of the current contract a mere eight weeks away, and recognizing that there are a number of challenging issues that need to be addressed, retailers remain hopeful that a new long-term agreement can be reached before the deadline,” said the Retail Industry Leaders Association President Sandy Kennedy, in the letter to the presidents of the PMA and ILWU earlier this month.

Talks are scheduled to continue on a daily basis until an agreement is reached. If an agreement is not reached well ahead of the deadline, it is expected shippers could start making alternate plans for freight that enters or leaves the U.S. from West Coast ports, affecting some truck movements. 

“West Coast ports have lost significant market share in recent years, and face renewed competition from Canada, Mexico, the Panama Canal and other domestic ports for cargo that has powered job and economic growth in local port communities and beyond,” said PMA President Jim McKenna. “With these stakes in mind, PMA and its members are focused on delivering a contract that ensures the West Coast’s standing as the gateway of choice for goods sent to and from Asia.”

Meantime, a new poll by the Journal of Commerce shows two-thirds of shippers  plan to divert at least some cargo away from U.S. West Coast ports. The reason is to avoid any service disruptions that could emerge from contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and West Coast employers, especially if there is a strike or lockout of if it appears there will be one.

Update adds JOC poll.