Shipping lines and the union representing more than 14,000 dockworkers at the ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles and other West Coast ports have agreed to start contract negotiations early next year.

The existing contract between the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping companies and terminal operators, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, expires in July of 2008.

Both sides said they are striving to reach a deal before the deadline in order to avoid a repeat of the 2002, when the L.A. and Long Beach ports were shut down for 11 days.
The shutdown cost companies and consumers millions and as hundreds of ships waited off shore to unload their cargo.

The ports of Long Beach and L.A. handled more than 7 million containers while L.A. port handled nearly 8 million last year.

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