LOS ANGELES (AP) — While West Coast seaports struggle to keep up with billions of dollars of cargo, dockworkers and their employers apparently aren't close to a new contract nearly six months after their old deal expired.
Longshoremen have continued to work without a contract at 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle that are a vital trade link with Asia, though their employers say workers have deliberately slowed their pace over the past few months.
The ports handled $892 billion in imports and exports during 2013, according to U.S. trade data. Cargo volume has been heavy this year as the economy improves — and due to a range of problems, that cargo is having a hard time getting where it needs to go efficiently.
While work speed has been an issue in several major ports, so has an ongoing lack of truck beds to haul containers of goods from dockside yards to distribution warehouses. Hardest hit have been U.S. exporters of apples, potatoes and other produce, who can't get their perishable goods to foreign markets in time. Some importers also have been affected, though not so badly to cause widespread shortages of holiday goods.
A spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents oceangoing shipping lines and the operators of cargo terminals at the ports that employ longshoremen, said Wednesday that the two sides "remain far apart on several issues" that have been vexing negotiators for months.
"Statements and rumors that our negotiations are 'close' to a final contract are not true," spokesman Steve Getzug said in a written statement.
Negotiators for the association and the powerful International Longshore and Warehouse Union met Thursday in San Francisco. Neither side is publicly discussing what is happening behind closed doors, though each says proposals are being actively exchanged.
A week ago, the association gave the union what Getzug characterized as "a comprehensive proposal," but the union's response Monday "made clear that we're still far apart and there's still a lot more to do."
Union spokesman Craig Merrilees said union negotiators eagerly await the association's reply to their latest proposal.
So far, the only concrete progress was a tentative agreement on health care costs — a deal that came in August. Talks began in May, and the prior six-year contract expired in July.
Contact Justin Pritchard at http://twitter.com/lalanewsman .