West Coast Port Strike Appears Unlikely, Consultant Says

Negotiations on a new labor contract for 20,000 dockworkers at West Coast ports will probably conclude without a labor disruption, a shipping consultant said at an industry conference.

A six-year contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping companies, expired July 1. While talks have been under way since May, signs point toward a deal, said Anthony Scioscia, former senior vice president of labor relations of A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S’s Maersk Agency U.S.A., who is now a consultant to the industry.

The longshoremen and the association representing shippers at 27 West Coast ports have been discussing how to retrain and preserve jobs for dockworkers as automation reduces the number of dock positions, as well as salaries and work rules. A strike or lockout could cost the U.S.economy $2 billion a day, according to the National Retail Federation and National Association of Manufacturers.

“The environment has been civil and constructive with operations being normal,” Scioscia said today at the Intermodal Association of North America’s 2014 expo in Long Beach, California. “It’s been relatively uneventful.”

David Adam, chief executive officer of U.S. Maritime Alliance, which represents container-carrier companies, agreed that a strike or work stoppage is unlikely.

Labor and management are meeting today in San Francisco, union spokesman Craig Merrilees said. He declined to comment on the status of negotiations or prospects for a settlement.

The two sides resolved the issue of health-care expense, they said in August without revealing details.

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