More than 100 US-based industry groups are calling for West Coast port stakeholders to start negotiations on a new labour contract for dockworkers in order to avoid the disruption seen last year. 

The groups, which include the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America (FDRA), are urging the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) to begin early discussions on a contract extension or a new contract – with the goal to conclude negotiations before the current contract expires on 30 June 2019.

"We also encourage you to avoid a repeat of the disruptions and slowdowns that occurred during the 2014 contract negotiations," the groups say. 

They add that while they are pleased the ILWU and PMA recognise the negative economic impact of disruptions and slowdowns, the groups also know there will be important and difficult issues for both sides to resolve during the next set of talks.

"We believe a new model for future negotiations needs to be developed, one which stresses early and continuous dialogue," they explain, adding: "In addition, we would like to see both of you pledge to avoid actions that would slow, stop, or disrupt cargo movement during negotiations."

At the very least, the groups say the two parties should maintain the arbitration mechanisms in the existing contract for the duration of the negotiations, even if the contract expires before a final agreement is reached. 

A nine-month long labour dispute that began in 2014 saw congestion at US West Coast ports reach "breaking point". Slow-downs meant apparel and footwear companies missed deadlines for holiday and spring deliveries, which resulted in significant cargo costs and millions of dollars in lost sales. And many were forced to implement contingency plans such as airfreight and rerouting to other, sometimes non-US ports.

"We cannot afford a repeat in 2019," the groups say. "Agreeing early to a long-term contract will provide the stability and predictability our collective members need, while protecting against any self-inflicted harm to the broader US economy."