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Federal Mediation OK’d for Stalled Port Labor Talks

Federal Mediation OK’d for Stalled Port Labor Talks

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.

1/07/2015

Frustration With White House Port Labor Inaction

Los Angeles, CA – More than 160 associations and industry groups have addressed another 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 groups represent a wide spectrum of U.S.-based manufacturers, farmers, wholesalers, retailers, importers, exporters, and transportation and logistics providers. The letter follows in its entirety:

Mr. President:

“We are seeking your help in moving the negotiations to mediation similar to what occurred during the contentious East Coast port labor negotiations in 2012.

“The labor contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) began on May 15, 2014 and it seems little progress has occurred since the contract expired on July 1, 2014.

Not Close to an Agreement

“While there was optimism with the latest exchange of comprehensive proposals last week, the recent statement by PMA that the parties are not close to an agreement and “remain far apart on several issues” is very concerning.

“Even after continued negotiations through this past weekend, the PMA has now officially asked for a Federal mediator to be assigned to help the parties achieve a final deal.

“It is imperative that the ILWU agree to the use of a mediator. We continue to see significant congestion at the ports which is impacting both imports and exports. While there are many reasons for the congestion beyond labor slowdowns, industry cannot begin to develop solutions until a new contract is finally resolved.

“We are extremely concerned the negotiations will now slip into 2015 and continue to cause problems for all industries that rely on the ports.

The Impact from ‘Congestion and Slowdowns’

“Importers, exporters and others are feeling the impact from the congestion and slowdowns at the ports. There have been daily news stories about the impacts on industries that rely on the ports to get their products to market.

“Retailers have had delays in getting holiday goods to store shelves. Manufacturers have had to slow and even stop production lines due to unavailable components delayed at the ports, creating high-levels of uncertainty for workers and employers who are aiming to deliver products to domestic and global customers.

“Potato farmers and apple growers have missed shipments to overseas markets, potentially closing those markets to future sales. There have even been reports of cancelled Christmas tree shipments to Asian markets.

“The longer these negotiations continue, the greater the negative impact this will have on jobs, down-stream consumers, and the business operations of exporters, importers, retailers, transportation providers, manufacturers, and other stakeholders. Our organizations continue to believe that both parties can reach an agreement that will ensure the continued success and competitiveness of these ports for the foreseeable future. “However, after seven months of negotiations with little progress, we believe federal mediation is needed to help them reach a conclusion.

With an official request from the PMA for a mediator, we urge the administration to work with both parties to appoint a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) in order to help them conclude their negotiations as quickly as possible.”

The letter was endorsed by, among others, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, American Apparel & Footwear Association, American Association of Exporters and Importers, American Association of Port Authorities, American Trucking Associations, California Farm Bureau Federation, Columbia River Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association, Coalition of New England Companies for Trade, Customs Brokers and International Freight Forwarders of Washington State, Fashion Accessories Shippers Association, Food Marketing Institute, Green Coffee Association, Indiana State Poultry Association, Intermodal Association of North America, International Dairy Foods Association, International Warehouse and Logistics Association, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Retailers Association, and the Montana Retail Association.

Also signing the letter were the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, National Association of Manufacturers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Electrical Manufacturers Association, National Customs Brokers and Forwarders of America, National Retail Federation, National Shippers Strategic Transportation Council, North American Export Grain Association, North American Meat Association, North American Shippers Association, NY/NJ Foreign Freight Forwarders and Customs Brokers, Orange County Business Council, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Pacific Coast Council of Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders, Pacific Northwest Asia Shippers Association, Texas Cotton Association, The National Industrial Transportation League, United Fresh Produce Association, United States Council for International Business, United States Fashion Industry Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Meat Export Federation, U.S. Shippers Association, Washington Council on International Trade, Washington Retail Association, and the Wine Institute.

The letter was also sent to all members of Congress, Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Mario Cordero, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Acting Director Allison Beck, and the governors of California, Oregon and Washington.

12/26/2014

Update: West Coast Longshore Talks Continue

Los Angeles – The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU) have resumed contract negotiations.

Both groups took a four-day break in the talks as ILWU representatives attended unrelated contract negotiations with grain handlers in the Pacific Northwest.

According to a joint statement, the talks, so far have been “productive” with both the PMA and the ILWU pledging to “keep cargo moving through US West Coast ports during the negotiations.”

The six-year contract between dockworkers and the employers who operate port terminal and shipping lines expired on July 1. It covers workers at 29 ports from San Diego, California to Bellingham, Washington.

In the weeks preceding the expiration of the original contract, businesses across the country, and overseas, were concerned about the possibility of a work stoppage that could have paralyzed the movement of cargo through US West Coast ports including the major container load centers in Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, and Seattle/Tacoma.

In 2002, a breakdown in labor negotiations resulted in a 10-day lockout at the 29 ports that was estimated to have cost the US economy $1 billion a day with the supply chains of some companies seriously ‘kinked’ for up to six months afterwards.

At the time, a week before the July 1 expiration date, Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation (NRF), said, “Folks are nervous about what’s going to happen once the contract expires.”

The concern was underscored by the fact that, during the months of July through September, retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Target Corp receive ocean shipments of goods sold during their critical back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons, he said.

Past experience shows that labor negotiations at West Coast ports typically extend beyond the contract expiration date with the current round of talks possibly extending into September, according to some sources.

08/04/2014

No Work Disruptions at West Coast Ports, Say PMA, ILWU

Los Angeles, CA – Despite the failure to hammer out a contract by today’s 5:00 p.m. PST deadline, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA)  and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) have announced that there will be no disruption of cargo handling activity at 29 ports from Tacoma to San Diego.

Both the PMA and the ILWU issued a joint statement saying that, “While there will be no contract extension, cargo will keep moving and normal operations will continue at the ports until an agreement can be reached.”

The PMA represents terminal operators and ocean carriers with the ILWU representing the 20,000 longshoremen that work the docks at what are some of the busiest container ports in the country.

Both sides, the statement said, “understand the strategic importance of the ports to the local, regional and US economies, and are mindful of the need to finalize a new coast-wide contract as soon as possible to ensure continuing confidence in the West Coast ports and avoid any disruption to the jobs and commerce they support.”

It’s not unusual for PMA-ILWU negotiations at West Coast ports to extend beyond the contract expiration date. The current round of negotiations could stretch through to the end of this month.

“The negotiators will keep negotiating, the workers will keep working,” said Craig Merrilees, spokesman for the ILWU last week. In 2002, a breakdown in negotiations resulted in a 10-day lockout at West Coast ports that resulted in an 11-day port shutdown that analysts said cost the US economy $1 billion a day and disrupted supply chains for six months.

7/01/2014