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.”