Sides Reach Key Agreement in Port Dispute

If even labor strife ends, supply chain slowdown could persist for months.
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The end of the West Coast port labor dispute could be in sight now that both sides have reached an agreement on a key matter. As the Associated Press reported this week, shipping lines and longshoremen at ports from Tacoma, WA, to Long Beach, CA, resolved their disagreement over truck chassis repair at port facilities thanks to a federal mediator who intervened in early January.

"The new agreement addresses neither wages nor pensions, but what would seem an ancillary issue: who maintains and repairs the truck beds used to haul containers of cargo from dockside yards to distribution warehouses," the AP reported.

The concern over chassis repair arose due to fears of automation taking jobs away from members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

"This has been a major topic of conversation for a few weeks, and with this tentative agreement, the hope is we can make progress toward reaching a final contract," the AP quoted Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents companies that own the ocean-going container ships and operate dockside terminals where workers load and unload cargo.

Much work needs to be done before the dispute is resolved and ports return to normal operations. Businesses will endure slower-than-usual shipments and supply chain disruptions until the final contract is passed.

The port slowdown has been a paint point for any business importing cargo containers from Asia, with many distributors listing it as a top industry concern for 2015 and one telling me late last year that it was "an absolute disaster."

Even if the sides come to terms on a new labor contract, the congestion likely won't clear up quickly, as it might take months before the cargo containers begin moving from ship to port to truck or train in a timely manner.

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