Dockworkers were given the chance Friday to vote on a new contract extension that could provide long-term labor peace at West Coast seaports, where in recent years work slowdowns and strikes have affected billions of dollars in cargo.
Union delegates for 29 ports from Washington to California voted to allow about 20,000 rank-and-file members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to vote on a proposal from employers.
The deal from the Pacific Maritime Association would move the expiration date of the current contract from 2019 to 2022.
The offer includes a wage increase of 3.1 percent per year and pension increases.
The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping companies and port terminal operators, praised the decision to bring the offer to a vote.
"Extending our contract would maintain stability on the waterfront for the next five years - a crucial time as the West Coast waterfront faces increased competition from other North American ports, and as the maritime industry continues to battle global economic challenges," spokesman Wade Gates said.
West Coast ports handle a huge volume of trans-Pacific trade that is vital to the U.S. economy. They include the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports which together form the largest container shipping port in the nation.
But the ports also have a contentious labor history.
In early 2015, bitter negotiations over the contract now in effect caused major disruptions in the flow of cargo. Ports from San Diego to Seattle were all but shut down as the two sides haggled. Companies that accused workers of coordinated slowdowns decided to cut their shifts, shuttering ports on nights and weekends.
The tit-for-tat led to long lines of ships queueing outside of harbors, waiting for space at the docks.
Other strikes and lockouts affecting longshoremen, port clerks and truckers have also proven costly over the years.
The contract extension is aimed at ensuring West Coast ports remain a reliable gateway for international commerce. Importers and exporters have another option in the newly expanded Panama Canal, which allows larger ships to ply the route between the East and Gulf coasts and Asia. Ports on the Pacific coast of Mexico and Canada also are vying for U.S. business.