Letter calls for West Coast port labor peace

By Jeff Berman · July 9, 2014

Now that the July 1 deadline for the labor contract between the ILWU (the International Longshore Warehouse Union) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) has expired, both parties remain in negotiations even though a new labor deal has not been reached.

That is a good thing.

But there are various issues at play that stand to compromise negotiations, which have been ongoing since May 12. These include things like wages and benefits and job security, among others, for the roughly 14,000 port workers (that are ILWU members) in California, Washington, and Oregon and 20,000 total workers at the 29 West Coast ports impacted by these labor talks.

That is a bad thing.

But it stands to reason that the good still outweighs the bad for the sole fact that the ports are open for business. And it is also good that is the case as the amount of import activity at these ports remains well ahead of seasonal norms as shippers want to ensure they have stock on hand in the even of a work stoppage at the ports.

That is where a letter drafted on July 9 comes into play. The letter is for PMA Chairman and CEO James McKenna and ILWU President Robert McEllrath and was drafted by the National Retail Federation and 67 different association and organizations, including the American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Association of Manufacturers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and many other concerns.

This same group penned a letter to these groups in mid-May, calling for an amicable settling of their six-year contract prior to the July 1 expiration date of the labor contract, which now sees the PMA and ILWU still talking and trying to get a deal done.

The theme of the letter was gentle but direct, with the same theme as before: get a deal done sooner than later, please.

“[W]e again call on all parties to make every attempt possible to conclude a new agreement now that the current contract has expired,” the letter stated. “We fully respect the process of collective bargaining and we understand the importance of the key issues for management and labor. However, ass we stated in our May 9th letter, the economic well-being of thousands of U.S. importers and exporters, and the millions of employees and business partners, rests on a timely resolution of this new contract. Now that the contract has expired, we ask that both parties stay the course, complete the contract negotiations in a timely fashion and without any interruption to the smooth flow of commerce. Our organizations believe that both parties can reach an agreement that will ensure the continued success and competitiveness of these ports for the foreseeable future.”

That is a succinct way of describing things from the perspective of industry stakeholders whose economic viability is truly dependent on port productivity. Make no mistake, if things take a wrong turn in these talks it could be 2002 redux, when a ten-day West Coast port shutdown took the wind out of the economy’s sails and resulted in an estimated $15 billion in reported losses and created a backlog that took several months to be cleared.

Again, that is a situation that needs to be avoided at all costs. Let’s hope that the PMA and ILWU find a way to meet in the middle to prevent a similar situation like we saw in 2002, which would likely have far more dire consequences in terms of costs and a still somewhat shaky economic outlook.


About the Author

Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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