Los Angeles, CA –Several of the nation’s largest industry groups are expressing relief with the news that a federal mediator will be assigned to referee the stalled labor contract negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU).
The PMA represents the terminal operators and ocean carriers that call at 29 ports on the U.S. West Coast from Seattle to San Diego; the ILWU represents the 20,000-plus dockworkers employed at the ports’ cargo terminals who’ve been without a contract since last July 1.
Reacting to the announcement from the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, Jonathan Gold, vice president of Supply Chain and Customs Policy at the National Retail Federation (NRF) said, “After months of heated rhetoric and increasing cargo congestion, this is the first positive news from the West Coast ports in some time…we sincerely hope the FMCS-supervised negotiations will progress quickly and that final agreement on a new labor contract will be reached relatively soon.”
Robyn Boerstling, director of Transportation and Infrastructure Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), called the intervention of a federal mediator “welcome news.”
Commending the PMA and the ILWU for “taking this critical step in order to keep negotiations on track with the goal of reaching a long-awaited agreement between the negotiating parties,” Boerstling said U.S. manufacturers “depend on the ability of West Coast ports to efficiently move cargo valued at 12.5 percent of U.S. GDP and a prolonged slowdown would continue to inflict long-term damage to the economy.”
Both the NRF and the NAM have called for federal mediation since the beginning of the labor negotiations. Last month, the two Washington, D.C.-headquartered groups led a group of 160 national trade groups urging both the PMA and the ILWU to iron-out their differences and end the impasse.
American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) President and CEO Kurt Nagle also applauded the decision to name a mediator saying, “We believe that federal mediation will result in a fair and equitable agreement, and that without prompt settlement of the issues, our entire nation – not just the West Coast – could suffer long-term, detrimental economic and trade-related impacts from the unpredictability of goods movements through our ports.”
On Dec. 17, AAPA sent a letter to President Obama, advocating that he begin the process of assigning a federal mediator to help the two parties reach an amicable contract agreement. Earlier, the U.S. Congressional delegations from California, Oregon and Washington state, appealed to the White House for intervention in the negotiations.
The ports impacted handled $892 billion in imports and exports in 2013, according to the latest data as work slowdowns by ILWU members at Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, and Seattle – several of the nation’s busiest container ports – have had a huge negative impact on the flow of manufactured goods, agricultural products, and raw materials in and out of the country.