By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Dockworkers at 29 ports in California, Oregon and Washington are expected to ratify a three-year extension of their contract with shipping companies, union officials said on Friday, likely ensuring labor peace on the West Coast waterfront until at least 2022.
Early returns from ballots cast by members of the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) showed 67 percent of the rank-and-file voting in favor of the contract extension, the union said in a statement.
If ratified as expected, the existing five-year labor agreement originally scheduled to lapse on July 1, 2019, would expire instead on July 1, 2022, according to the union.
The current contract was agreed to in February 2015 after nine months of negotiations between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents major shippers and terminal operators along the West Coast.
Labor tensions surrounding those talks disrupted the flow of cargo through the ports and reverberated across the U.S. commercial supply chain for many weeks, bogging down trans-Pacific trade in industries ranging from agriculture to automobiles.
California farmers were especially hard hit by port congestion, with export losses from perishable goods estimated to have run hundreds of millions of dollars per week.
It took weeks for the flow of shipping and cargo traffic to return to normal after the settlement, which was brokered with help from then-U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and a federal mediator.
The contract at issue covers 20,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports handling nearly half of all U.S. maritime trade and more than 70 percent of the country's imports from Asia.
Shippers and terminal operators have been eager to ensure continued stability for as long as possible, avoiding a potential repeat of prolonged labor turmoil that by some projections could have ended up costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars.
"With this contract extension, the West Coast waterfront has a tremendous opportunity to attract more market share and demonstrate that our ports and our workforce are truly world-class," the Pacific Maritime Association President James McKenna said in a statement.
The union said its Coast Balloting Commission would announce official results of the ratification vote on Aug. 4. The balloting, now over, followed a year of debate within the union on the proposed extension that ILWU leaders called unprecedented.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Tom Brown)