Negotiators have agreed on a provisional deal in a labor dispute between West Coast dockworkers and their employers, ending a protracted battle that has caused international trade at seaports to suffer.
The announcement of the deal comes after nine months of talks, during which the two sides began blaming each other for difficulties in managing overseas imports and exports.
Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who had arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday to broker a deal, confirmed the settlement to reporters on Friday evening. Perez said that although normal operations will resume on Saturday night, the backlog of cargo that has built up during the dispute will take time to be cleared, CBS Los Angeles reported. Crates full of produce, which could not be loaded on ships, were left to rot during the battle.
During the dispute, employers publicly accused dockworkers of slowing down their work and withholding labor, in an effort to snarl shipping lanes for leverage. The workers reportedly responded that they were performing adequately and that the problems were part of a wider dysfunction in the ports. Major ports were not closed, but worked at reduced capacity during the disagreement, drastically slowing freight traffic.
As the arguments dragged on, worries over lasting damage to the economy were raised. In a letter sent to representatives of both sides in February, California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer urged them to reach an agreement quickly to avoid serious losses.
"Long term damage to the competitiveness of California ports may have already occurred. These are terrible circumstances," the senators said, in the letter. "We urge you both to recognize that the current impasse has serious and troubling ramifications for our state and for our nation. The stakes are far too high for the status quo to persist. It is imperative that you achieve an agreement immediately."
The tentative five-year accord was confirmed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union spokesman Craig Merrilees. It awaits approval by the union’s 13,000 members, who work at 29 ports across the West Coast that handle about a quarter of all U.S. international trade.
The union began holding formal negotiations with their employers’ group, the Pacific Maritime Association, in May. The talks were to replace a six-year contract that expired on July 1.
In a statement released Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama was pleased with the agreement and called on the parties to move forward on the backlog in the West Coast ports.
"This is great news for the parties involved in the negotiation and a huge relief for our economy -- particularly the countless American workers, farmers and businesses that have been affected by the dispute and those facing even greater disruption and costs within further delays," Earnest said, USA Today reported.