A California Democrat says he’s optimistic negotiations to secure a workforce at the nation’s West Coast ports will come to a timely conclusion.

Speaking to the Agri-Pulse Food and Ag Policy Summit West Monday, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., said he’s been in discussion with the labor officials as well as the port operators involved in the last 10 days, and what he’s heard has him believing a long-term labor dispute is not in play.

“While the current contract has expired, both sides stated that they believe that they will have a contract in short order and there will be a contract that will increase the efficiency of the port,” said Garamendi, whose northern California  district stretches from Sacramento to the westernmost reaches of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Labor and port officials are working to negotiate a new contract for more than 22,000 workers along the West Coast. Both sides have publicly said they do not plan to engage in strike or lockout tactics as part of the negotiations, which Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Agri-Pulse in June were “proceeding smoothly.”

One potential issue left to be resolved is how the new contract would address automation at the massive facilities that move agricultural goods and other American exports. Garamendi said the labor unions involved in the discussions — which include the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association — are not opposed to growth in the use of automation, so long as their members can retain their employment.

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“Automation, as I've heard from them, is not the issue,” he said. “The issue is, can the jobs that would be modified or changed by automation, be transferred to other tasks on the port?”

Garamendi, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has taken an active role in export policy and was the lead House Democrat on the Ocean Shipping Reform Act. That bill was signed into law earlier this year, but Garamendi has also worked to author other legislation aimed at addressing problems moving agricultural cargo through West Coast ports.

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