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ILWU Waves-Off Pleas for Federal Contract Mediation

ILWU Waves-Off Pleas for Federal Contract Mediation

Los Angeles, CA – The International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) has reportedly waved-off calls for federal mediation to break a deadlock in contract negotiations to end an on-going work slowdown that has handicapped operations at 29 U.S. West Coast ports.

The union, which represents more than 20,000 dock workers at ports from Tacoma to San Diego, has said it wants the 11 members of the board of the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) to join in the negotiations that have stretched out since a six-year labor contract expired July 1.

The PMA, which represents the shipping lines and terminal operators at the ports, has accused the ILWU of instigating slowdowns since October to gain leverage at the bargaining table.

The union, which denies causing the bottle-necks, has countered saying the terminal operators and shipping lines themselves are largely to blame for bad business decisions that have disrupted port operations.

Chief among these, the union asserts, is the decision to out-source the tractor-trailer chassis used for hauling containers in to and out of cargo terminals from third-party logistics providers.

Last week, the San Francisco-headquartered PMA called for the ILWU to consent to federal mediation to help get the negotiations moving, saying “significant issues” including differences over wages, pensions and work rules “remain unresolved” after seven months of contract talks.

The two sides announced a provisional deal on health-care expenses in late August, without disclosing terms. Another issue is the retention of jobs for dockworkers as automation developments in cargo handling reduces the number of people needed to ‘work’ containerships.

The cargo back-ups at the ports have significantly impacted the flow of nearly half of U.S. maritime trade and more than 70 percent of imports from Asia.

Cargo that normally takes two or three days to clear the ports has faced lag times of up to two weeks, with productivity at some waterfronts cut by at least half, industry analysts say.

Last month, more than 160 associations and industry groups led by the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation addressed a letter to President Barack Obama “expressing our continued concerns with the status of the West Coast port labor negotiations and the impact the ongoing congestion and slowdowns are having on all segments of the economy.”

The letter urged the White House to name a federal mediator to referee the negotiations and break the deadlock, but the White House’s only response to the situation has been a statement released in November stating that the president was “hopeful the negotiations would come to a successful conclusion.”

The statement was in response to an earlier letter from the U.S. Senate delegations representing California, Oregon and Washington state detailing the negative impact of the situation and asking the president to name a federal mediator.


Senators Urge ILWU, PMA to Reach Contract Agreement

Los Angeles, CA – Pressure is mounting on the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to successfully conclude their negotiations to craft a labor contract covering major ports on the U.S. West Coast from Seattle to San Diego.

In a letter sent yesterday, the U.S. senators from California, Oregon, and Washington urged leaders from both the PMA and the ILWU “to continue working together toward a fair and amicable settlement on a proposed collective bargaining agreement.”

The letter, which was sent to ILWU President Robert McEllrath and PMA President and CEO James C. McKenna, was signed by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington.

“This collective bargaining agreement is important for the health, safety and economic well-being of the 13,600 longshore, clerk, and foreman workers at 29 ports from California to Washington, as well as for companies large and small, agriculture producers, ports, and international buyers around the world,” the senators wrote.

“We strongly urge both the PMA and the ILWU to continue negotiating in good faith to resolve the remaining issues and to swiftly move toward a final contract agreeable to both parties.”

Last week, a diverse coalition including retailers, manufacturers and farmers and other supply chain stakeholders led by the National Retail Federation (NRF) addressed a letter to the White House urging the government’s “immediate involvement” in the contract negotiations.

The coalition called on the Obama Administration “to become engaged in the contract negotiations before a disruption can occur,” and recommended the use of a federal mediator to forestall any threat of a management-directed lockout or labor-initiated strike.

“We believe immediate action is necessary and the federal government’s use of all of its available options would be helpful in heading off a shutdown and keeping the parties at the negotiating table,” the coalition letter said.

The NRF and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) issued an economic analysis in June that found a port shutdown would cost the U.S. economy approximately $2 billion a day.

The NRF-NAM analysis estimated that a 5-day stoppage at ports on the U.S. West Coast would reduce U.S. GDP by $1.9 billion a day. This would increase exponentially with a 20-day stoppage resulting in a loss of $2.5 billion a day.


Secrecy of ILWU, PMA Contract Talks Blasted

Los Angeles, CA – The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) should “part the curtain of secrecy surrounding their contract negotiations,” according to Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gary Toebben.

The deadline for reaching agreement on a new labor contract governing America’s 29 West Coast ports passed at 5 p.m. PST this afternoon “and the scant amount of insight or information on the future status of a new contract worries many,” he said.

Toebben made his comments in an editorial for the Los Angeles Daily News published on the paper’s website  just a few hours before the contract deadline expired.

The last public statement on the progress of the talks was made on June 4 when the negotiations were described as “positive” by the leadership of both the PMA and the ILWU.

“About 12.5 percent of the US GDP currently flows through the ports, and 9.2 million jobs across America — including 3.7 million in California alone — depend on the efficient flow of goods on and off the docks,” he wrote.

“Industries spanning agriculture to manufacturing, from autos to electronics, and across all sectors of retail are currently scampering to implement contingency plans given that neither a new contract nor a contract extension has been announced, he said.”

Both the PMA, which represents the terminal operators and shipping companies, and the ILWU, which represents the 20,000 dock workers at the ports in California, Oregon and Washington, he said “are staying tight-lipped about the talks that have been ongoing for two months.”

It has been widely reported, Toebben added, “that rising health care costs are a major sticking point, given that the longshoremen, retirees and their families enjoy one of the most envied health care plans available in America today, with unlimited coverage at little or no cost.”

Also, he said, “it’s also understood that West Coast ports have been leaking market share for the past decade or more, as competing ports on America’s East and Gulf coasts have been lowering costs, improving performance and building infrastructure to attract greater shipping volumes. Global manufacturing patterns too are shifting, putting more origination points closer to East and Gulf coast destinations.”

Decrying the loss of cargo marketshare, Toebben said, “Suddenly, the West Coast is not the monopoly it used to be — and current lack of an agreement or extension only hastens shippers’ efforts to further diversify their transportation networks. In Southern California, the information ‘blackout’ by PMA and ILWU only fuels the worries of employees, families, politicians, communities and businesses small and large, who together wonder if we’ll see a repeat of 2002’s billion-dollar-per-day coast-wide shut down.”

Information, he charges, “is limited, but the questions aren’t – how close are the parties to reaching a new contract?; what issues have already been fully resolved, and which still remain?; will an extension be formalized to assuage concerns while talks continue?; will the union engage in work slowdowns if an extension can’t be signed?; and, can the ports continue to operate efficiently, with everyday issues and grievances resolved amicably, without an extension?

“Given the critical importance of the ports in today’s local and regional economies, and for the sake of the millions of people who depend on the uninterrupted flow of goods in and out of America,” Toebben concluded. “Such transparency is essential, especially given what is at stake now — and for years to come.”