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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.


Pressure Builds on White House to Take Port Action

Los Angeles, CA – Pressure is building on the White House to appoint a federal mediator to broker a new labor contract between U.S. West Coast union dock workers and the terminal operators that employ them at 29 U.S. West Coast ports from Bellingham, Washington, to San Diego.

The latest call for action comes from the executive directors of the Port of Los Angeles and the Port Long Beach, as a work slowdown at the nation’s two top-ranking containerports has eroded dramatically since both the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) ended an unsuccessful round of talks in October.

The PMA has charged the ILWU is filling only about 50 percent of the work orders for skilled equipment operators needed for yard work, while the union insists the admittedly slowed pace is a result of a chronic list of problems that range from working the latest generation of mega-containerships to a shortage of chassis and what they call “terminal mismanagement.”

“Enough is enough. These guys have to get back to work,” said Jon Slangerup, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, at a recent maritime industry event.

Slangerup and Gene Seroka, executive director of the neighboring Port of Los Angeles, have joined a growing number of representatives from both the public and private sectors publicly urging President Obama to name a Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service representative to end the impasse and get both groups to come to an agreement and end the crippling work slowdown.

Over the past several weeks, the two largest industry groups in the country – the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers – have ramped-up their efforts to get the White House to act with U.S. Senators and House delegations from California, Washington, and Oregon and the mayors of several cities including Los Angeles and Long Beach have written President Obama urging him to appoint a mediator.

Agricultural exporters have reported the shipping delays are backing up supply lines and creating serious economic damage, hurting their reputation among overseas buyers.

Obama’s only statement on the situation was issued in mid-November, when an Administration spokesman said that the president was “confident the two sides” will reach a contract.

The situation, said Slangerup, “has gotten worse. That should send a clear signal to the White House that it is time for action. The president has to act. It is long overdue.”