West Coast dockworkers ratify 5-year contract

LOS ANGELES — The labor dispute that hobbled international trade through West Coast seaports earlier this year officially ended Friday when the union representing dockworkers announced its members had ratified a five-year contract.

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union voted 82 percent in favor of the deal, according to spokesman Craig Merrilees. Union leaders had reached a tentative deal in February with the companies that own massive oceangoing ships that bring cargo to and from ports and operate the terminals where that cargo is loaded and unloaded.

About 13,000 union members were eligible to vote.

Earlier this week, the Pacific Maritime Association of shipping lines and port terminal operators said its members passed the contract. That made the union’s approval the last step.

Ports from San Diego to Seattle were all but shut down several months ago as the two sides haggled over the contract. Companies that accused workers of coordinated slowdowns decided to cut their shifts, shuttering ports on nights and weekends.

The tit-for-tat led to long lines of ships queueing outside of harbors, waiting for space at the docks. By the time the U.S. secretary of labor had helped broker a tentative deal in February, several dozen ships were anchored outside the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles — the nation’s largest. They held everything from Easter goods to patio furniture.

Meanwhile, U.S. exporters complained that their goods — including agricultural perishables — were stuck on the docks as foreign competitors filled orders that should be theirs.

Cargo is again flowing smoothly through 29 ports that handle about $1 trillion in imports or exports annually.

Now the two sides must work to restore confidence that West Coast ports remain a reliable gateway for international commerce. Importers and exporters will soon have another option in the expanded Panama Canal, which would allow larger ships to ply the route between the East and Gulf coasts and Asia. Ports on the Pacific coast of Mexico and Canada also are vying for U.S. business.

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