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LONG BEACH: Following months of negotiations the Pacific Maritime Association, representing 29 U.S. West Coast ports, has reached a "tentative" five-year agreement with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

The deal was reached following last week's intervention by U.S. secretary of Labor Tom Perez who threatened to invite the two sides to Washington if they couldn't resolve a remaining issue involving arbitration.

port of long beach 1"After more than nine months of negotiations, we are pleased to have reached an agreement that is good for workers and for the industry," said PMA president James McKenna and ILWU president Bob McEllrath in a joint statement. "We are also pleased that our ports can now resume full operations."

At the beginning of February the PMA offered the ILWU's 20,000 members a 14 percent wage increase over five years, free health care up to $35,000 a year, an increase in their pension ceiling to $88,800 a year, and a guaranteed 40-hour paid working week. According to the PMA, the ILWU then demanded the right to fire any independent arbitrator who rules against them at the end of each contract period. The PMA responded by suspending premium-pay weekend and holiday vessel operations.

Commenting on the apparent impasse between the two sides, Perez tweeted: "Both parties had an obligation to resolve this matter quickly because too many innocent people and businesses were suffering. If it weren't for the last issue, it would have been solved earlier. But both sides in [the] dispute committed to solving [the] problem and did it."

The PMA and ILWU have declined to give details of their new agreement that has yet to be ratified by the port owners and ILWU members.

However Port of Long Beach chief executive Jon Slangerup stated: "The Port of Long Beach welcomes the tentative contract agreement announced today and is especially grateful to president Obama, Labor secretary Thomas Perez and federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh whose leadership and direct involvement were key in reaching this pact. We thank the ILWU and PMA and look forward to everyone getting back to business as usual starting immediately. We know that the marine terminal operators, longshore workers, truckers, railroads and others will be extremely busy as they work to clear out the massive backlog of cargo at all of the West Coast ports, including Long Beach. All of us will be working together to make this happen as soon as possible, but once again, we are extremely pleased with today's news.

"We are pleased that an agreement has been reached," added Chris Lytle, the port of Oakland's executive director. "Now it's time for all sides to pull together and get cargo moving with the speed our importers and exporters need."

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