Oil Report

Clock ticks down on U.S. West Coast dockworkers contract

LOS ANGELES, June 30 (Reuters) - With less than 24 hours to go before a contract expires for 25,000 dockworkers up and down the West Coast, representatives for the union and for shipping lines said on Monday they believed the talks would continue past the deadline.

Spokesmen for both the shipping lines and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union also said they did not expect a showdown like the one that culminated in a 10-day lockout in 2002.

The spokesmen for the union and Pacific Maritime Association, which negotiates for the cargo carriers, stevedores and terminal operators, used similar language in characterizing the bargaining sessions as the clock wound down on the current, 6-year contract.

“I think folks are working hard and they are aware of the contract expiration Tuesday at 5 p.m.,” union spokesman Craig Merrilees said. “They are going to do their best but it may require more time.”

“At this point, assuming the talks remain productive, those talks will probably continue (past the deadline),” Merrilees said. “But hopefully there will be an added sense of urgency and seriousness about addressing some of the issues (still on the table).”

Pacific Maritime Association spokesman Steve Getzug said that everyone was “mindful that we’ve got a deadline looming and we’re working as hard and as quick as we can to try to get an agreement in place.”

Though neither side would discuss the negotiations in detail, Getzug said that a tentative agreement had already been reached on health care issues, which are typically a major sticking point.

Getzug said employers were keen to make sure that technology at the 29 West Coast ports remained up-to-date and competitive, where Merrilees stressed that dockworkers were concerned about safety issues.

“Seventeen people have been killed while the (current) contact has been in effect the last 6 years,” Merrilees said. “So its become a very dangerous job and its more dangerous than it needs to be.”

Contract talks broke down in 2002 largely over health care and technology issues, triggering the 10-day lockout that soaked the U.S. for an estimated $15 billion in economic losses. (Editing by Carol Bishopric)