Contract talks continue for longshoremen, other dock workers

By Dan Catchpole Herald Writer

EVERETT — It’s been weeks since the contract expired for Everett’s dock workers, but the ships keep coming.

Meanwhile, representatives for terminal operators, shippers and longshoremen are still negotiating a new contract covering 29 ports in Washington, Oregon and California.

Port officials are on the sidelines, waiting to see if the two sides reach a deal. The last six-year contract expired July 1, but both sides agreed to keep working while continuing talks.

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern, waiting for an outcome,” said Lisa Lefeber, spokeswoman for the Port of Everett.

The port regularly employs about 50 longshoremen, who made an average of $40.54 an hour in 2013, according to data from the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators and shippers.

The San Francisco-based organization negotiates labor agreements with the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union.

Talks broke down in 2002, and the ILWU accused the PMA of locking workers out. President George W. Bush dusted off a rarely used provision in the Taft-Hartley Act to get docks operating again.

The current contract was negotiated in 2008. Hourly base pay starts at about $25 and goes up to more than $40, plus additional pay depending on the work and skills required, said Craig Merrilees, an ILWU spokesman.

On the West Coast, longshoremen earned an average of $47.31 an hour last year, according to the Pacific Maritime Association.

Sticking points this time around include wages and benefits, safety standards and future job availability, Merrilees said.

“There’s concern that jobs on the docks will be there in the future,” he said.

Technology may change the work, but the ILWU wants to make sure its members have first shot, he said.

Both sides declined to comment on how current talks are going.

The Port of Everett is entering its busy season, when ship traffic to and from Russia picks up.

Since January, “we’re four ships ahead of where we were last year,” Lefeber said.

That is about a 10 percent increase.

In 2013, 175 ships called at Everett, up from 167 in 2012.

The port mostly handles break bulk cargo that is not held in containers, such as Japanese-made wings for Boeing 777 or 20-foot-tall John Deere tractors bound for Russia.

The total tonnage moving through the port has increased in recent years, but at 293,442 tons in 2013, it still hasn’t caught up to pre-recession levels. In 2008, the Port of Everett handled 412,207 tons. And that was well down from 1999, when the port moved 510,432 tons, according to data from the PMA.

For the time being, Everett’s docks are running.

“Workers are working. Negotiators are negotiating,” Merrilees said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.