Importers and exporters whose business depends on the L.A.’s twin ports and other West Coast harbors can breathe a sigh of relief: A tentative labor contract, reached in late February between dockworkers and terminal operators after months of work slowdowns and near gridlock, has been approved by both sides.

Members of the coastwide International Longshore and Warehouse Union approved the new five-year contract, with 82 percent of members voting in favor of the deal. Members of the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines and terminal operators, approved the contract earlier this week. The contract is set to expire July 1, 2019.

The ILWU’s statement notes that the prior contract, which expired in July, was approved by only 75 percent of members.

“The negotiations for this contract were some of the longest and most difficult in our recent history,” said ILWU International President Robert McEllrath. “Membership unity and hard work by the negotiating committee made this fair outcome possible.”

According to the union, the new agreement maintains health benefits, improves wages, pensions and job safety protections; limits outsourcing of jobs and provides an improved system for resolving job disputes.

PMA members “overwhelmingly” approved the contract on Wednesday, and said the contract includes an “enhanced arbitration system that is designed to support waterfront stability, capacity growth and productivity.”

Arbitration became a hotly debated point that threatened to stall a deal during the contract negotiations, which slowed the movement of goods through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as other West Coast ports, to a crawl.

Additionally, the PMA said in its press release on the agreement that the health care plan was paid by employers. The contract is retroactive to July 1, 2014, according to the PMA.

“The disruptions that occurred during negotiations, and the inconvenience and hardship created by them, were regrettable,” said PMA President and Chief Executive Jim McKenna. “We look forward to building upon the incredible advantages West Coast ports offer and winning back the trust and confidence of the shipping community. This contract provides important tools to accomplish that.”

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