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PMA Seeks Federal Mediation as West Coast Port Negotiations Drag On

After what has now amounted to seven months of ongoing talks and resulting slowdowns and port disruptions over a new labor contract, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents employers at 29 West Coast Ports has asked for federal mediation in its negotiations with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

Other stakeholders, like retailers, policy makers and port directors have already called for mediation, but the PMA said it was hoping to resolve the issue without outside aid. However, in a statement Monday, the PMA said after the latest talks failed to bring about a conclusion, the organization has deemed help moving negotiations along necessary.

The White House is reportedly monitoring the contract dispute, but President Obama said in a statement last month that the two sides should be able to resolve their own issues through collective bargaining.

Cargo movement has been continuously disrupted at ports in Tacoma, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach. The PMA said in a previous statement that slowdowns have so far resulted in a 40 to 60 percent slowdown in terminal productivity, and that in a hour, containers typically move between 25 and 35 containers, and now workers are moving as little as 10 to 18 in that same time. Monday’s statement said productivity drop-offs of 30-40 percent are now normal and intermittent walk-offs are also posing problems.

Reports have estimated that a shutdown at the ports could cost $2 billion a day in economic impact.

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PMA spokesman Wade Gates said, “After seven months of negotiations, we remain far apart on many issues,” adding that, “At the same time, the union continues its slowdowns, walk-offs and other actions that are having impacts on shippers, truck drivers and other local workers – with no end in sight. It is clear that the parties need outside assistance to bridge the substantial gap between us.” At the nation’s busiest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, the ILWU restricted dispatching skilled crane operators to operate yard cranes, one of the most important jobs in relieving back-ups at the docks.

According to the statement, the ILWU’s orchestrated slowdowns are creating long-term, and possibly permanent damage to the West Coast speeding up the continued loss in market share to East and Gulf Coast ports. A recent Journal of Commerce survey unveiled that 60 percent of shippers have already rerouted cargos for 2015 away from the U.S. West Coast to avoid the problems, with many shippers saying their diversions will be permanent.

“We began negotiations seven months ago by underscoring everyone’s concerns about the West Coast loss of market share, which directly impacts local jobs and economies,” Gates said. “We emphasized our commitment to good-faith bargaining and the importance of ensuring that there were no disruptions or other actions that would cause shippers to lose confidence in the future of our ports. Unfortunately, the ILWU’s slowdowns are causing those concerns to grow, and it is clear we need outside intervention to allow us to reach consensus on the issues between us.”

The ILWU has not issued a statement on the situation.