The international president of the longshore union praised the Biden administration’s acting labor secretary for helping dockworkers and their employers reach a tentative labor deal, and discussed the ratification process in a 10-minute video interview with the Port of Long Beach’s CEO on Thursday, June 22.

Willie Adams, the head of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, also recognized the hard work of his members while POLB leader Mario Cordero expressed relief that there’s a tentative labor contract.

“The true heroes of this whole thing,” Adams said, “is the (ILWU) membership.”

ILWU members worked throughout the pandemic years, Adams said, losing several members to COVID-19 as port ship traffic surged to record numbers. Union officials frequently used dockworkers’ steadfastness during the pandemic as a major reason for why they were fighting for the best possible contract.

Negotiations between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritim Association over a new contract for West Coast dockworkers lasted more than a year, often with frayed tensions that caused skittishness among shippers.

That’s why officials at the ports of LA and Long Beach have expressed relief at reaching a tentative agreement.

“We welcomed the news of the agreement,” Cordero said, “and sincere thanks goes to both parties.”

Separately, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka also made brief comments about the deal during Thursday’s LA harbor commission meeting.

“Now,” he said, “it’s on to bringing the cargo back.”

In the course of 13 months of negotiations, the twin port complex, the busiest in the nation, has seen cargo diverted to ports on the Gulf and East coasts as companies worried about the protracted talks impacting work efficiency.

In the Port of Long Beach video, Adams said acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su provided a helpful push in the final three days.

“She had the bully pulpit of President Biden,” he said. “She didn’t just stay one day; she stayed until it was done.”

She worked with both sides, Adams said, and told them, “We’ve got to try to get this done.”

She arrived in San Francisco — where talks took place — on Monday, June 12, and the tentative deal was announced late on Wednesday, June 14.

Now, Adams said, the union will follow an 80-year-old process laid out by the ILWU’s founders. Delegates from the organization’s highest elected body will gather in Long Beach next month for a walk-through of the agreement’s details.

“At the end,” Adams said, “we’ll ask them for a yes vote or a no vote to take back to our members.”

Then the local unions at each of the 29 ports along the West Coast will hold meetings and, Adams said, “we’ll then allow the membership to hit the microphone” to debate the package and cast their votes.

Details of the pending six-year contract have not been released, though some information has leaked out in the past week.

Asked by Cordero what the key issues were, Adams mentioned terminal automation, benefits and pensions.

Dockworkers, Adams said, take pride in the work they do.

“They used to call us wharf rats,” he said.

During his own leadership as the seventh ILWU president, Adams said, has has focused on lessons he learned from his parents as he was growing up in Kansas City, Missouri.

“Don’t look for faults in others, look for faults in yourself to improve yourself,” Adams said. “When I started out in the 1970s, it was pretty tough being a Black man” in the ILWU local in Tacoma, Washington.

But the toughness of those older dockworkers, some of whom had lived during the Great Depression, prepared him for his eventual move to San Francisco, Adams said, and for the work he does now in leading the 22,000-member West Coast labor union.

And now, those members must weigh whether to ratify the new six-year contract.

About 70 to 80 PMA members must also ratify the terms of the tentative agreement. The PMA represents employers throughout the world.

The ratification process is not expected to be complete until early fall.

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