Negotiations between transpacific shipping companies and dockworkers continued as the three-year contract covering all U.S. ports along the West Coast expired at 5 p.m.
Despite fears of work disruptions by some importers and exporters, both sides pledged to continue talking until they reach agreement, with the thorniest issues continuing to be health benefits and the introduction of technology.
The Pacific Maritime Assn., which is negotiating for major shipping lines and stevedoring companies, said it would consider a "defensive shutdown" of the ports if it detects a slowdown by the union.
However, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents slightly more than 10,000 dockworkers, said it had not considered a slowdown or a strike. The 1999 contract was reached two weeks after the previous agreement expired.