The union is not persuaded, at least not publicly.
"The competitiveness argument is an old saw that gets trotted out every time there's a negotiation," said union spokesman Craig Merrilees. "The claim has generally been used in an effort to extract concessions from the union members."
One area where the Pacific Maritime Association is looking for concessions is benefits. According to the PMA, the cost of benefits more than doubled over the past decade, reaching $93,200 per registered worker in fiscal year 2013.
During these negotiations, a new incentive is in play: In 2018, a 40 percent tax on the value of "Cadillac" health plans above a certain threshold kicks in under the Affordable Care Act—and the union's coverage qualifies.
Last July, workers and retirees picketed in Long Beach and in Tacoma, Washington, complaining that some families were shouldering tens of thousands of medical bills the health plan was not paying.
Employers said legitimate claims were being paid, but they were scrutinizing tens of millions of dollars of treatments that were likely fraudulent, including phantom appointments and charges for cosmetic surgery.
Other bargaining issues include what jobs will remain under union control, the introduction of technology that could make some jobs obsolete, and on-the-job safety measures.
—By The Associated Press