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.