West Coast longshore workers last week ratified a new six-year contract with the Pacific Maritime Association of waterfront employers. The new pact covers some 65,000 longshore workers and marine clerks, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, at 29 West Coast ports. The PMA represents 71 domestic and international carriers, terminal operators and stevedoring companies operating at those ports.

ILWU spokesperson Craig Merrilees sees the contract’s preservation of existing health benefits as “an important priority and a major milestone.” In a telephone interview, Merrilees called the expansion of pension benefits an accomplishment that is “contrary to what most workers are experiencing these days.”

Wage gains of $.50 per hour in the first two years, followed by $1.00 an hour in the remaining years “are modest,” he said, “but the jobs continue to be among the best blue collar jobs in the United States.” The base hourly wage under the contract is $31.18 per hour, with higher rates according to skill categories.

The union also won a pledge that it will have jurisdiction over maintenance and repair work at new West Coast facilities. In Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland, a fourth position was added under each crane, restoring a position cut in the 2002 contract.

The workers okayed the agreement by a 3 to 1 margin. Merrilees said some members felt the wage increases were too modest and the contract was too long.

Bargaining began last March. Workers stayed on the job while talks continued past the old pact’s July 1 expiration date. At the end of July ILWU and PMA negotiators said they had reached tentative agreement; after its meeting in mid-August the Longshore Caucus unanimously decided to send the contract to the members for a ratification vote.

mbechtel @ pww.org