A tentative contract agreement that restored the flow of international trade through West Coast seaports earlier this year took a big step closer to becoming official, as representatives of the dockworkers' union overwhelmingly recommended on Friday that rank-and-file members vote to approve the deal.
The difficult contract negotiations nearly closed 29 seaports from San Diego to Seattle, causing major delays in the delivery of billions of dollars of imports and exports. The tentative agreement restored normal operations on the West Coast ports, which handle about $1 trillion of trade each year.
Negotiators for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union reached the tentative, five-year deal in February with companies that run the massive ships and sprawling marine terminals that are integral to trans-Pacific trade.
"With their vote to recommend ratification of the contract between shippers and dockworkers at the West Coast ports, leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have taken an important step toward finalizing the agreement," U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a statement on Friday.
This week, a caucus of 90 union delegates met in San Francisco to study the offer in detail.
On Friday, 78 percent of delegates voted to urge the broader membership to approve the contract, the union said in a statement. The contract covers about 20,000 workers but only 13,000 have voting rights. Votes are cast by mail and will be tallied May 22, the union said.
At the height of the dispute, three dozen ships stacked with tens of thousands of containers were anchored outside the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, awaiting space at already jammed docks. On Friday, there were 13 vessels, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.
The executive director of the Port of Los Angeles estimated in February that the traffic jam would take several months to clear.
The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines and port terminal operators, called the caucus vote "an important endorsement ... and a critical step forward," in a written statement.