LOS ANGELES, July 1 (Reuters) - The contract covering 25,000 longshore workers at 29 West Coast ports expired on Tuesday but labor negotiations continued past the deadline and work at the docks went on without interruption.
A six-year contract covering dockworkers up and down the West Coast expired at 5 p.m. (0000 GMT) on Tuesday but representatives for employers and for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union agreed to remain at the bargaining table.
“We have a commitment from both sides to keep talking into the evening and into the night here,” union spokesman Craig Merrilees said shortly after the deadline passed.
Merrilees did not expect that the negotiators would hammer out an agreement on Tuesday evening but said it was possible sometime in the next few days or weeks.
In the meantime, workers at the West Coast ports, which handle more than 12 million cargo containers per year accounting for some 11 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, were expected to keep working.
Merrilees said they would remain on the job largely under the terms of the expired contract.
Both sides have described the bargaining sessions as productive and have said they did not expect a showdown like the one that culminated in a 10-day lockout in 2002.
Though neither side has discussed the negotiations in detail, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers, has said that a tentative agreement had already been reached on health-care issues, typically a major sticking point.
The PMA spokesman, Steve Getzug, has 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.
Contract talks broke down in 2002 largely over health care and technology issues, triggering the 10-day lockout that soaked the United States for an estimated $15 billion in economic losses. (Editing by Gary Hill)