West Coast ports closing for four days due to labor strife

West Coast ports closing for four days due to labor strife
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Ports along the West Coast are closing for four days over the Presidents Day holiday weekend due to a labor standoff, threatening the flow of cargo packages to cities across the U.S. 

The Pacific Maritime Association, which handles labor negotiations for port managers, attributed the closure to tactics being used by the union that represents the dockworkers.    

“Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion,” PMA spokesman Wade Gates said in a statement. “The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet, and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock. What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike.”

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The dockworkers union offered a starkly different take, arguing that managers were needlessly closing the West Coast ports “to divide us.

“They’re using lies and tactics to turn the public against and tour locals against the negotiating committee, and the rank-and-file against each other,” ILWU President Robert McEllrath said in a video that was posted on the union’s website. 

“We want to go to work, and they’re blaming us,” he continued. “There’s space on the docks to unload vessels, there’s cargo to be delivered, and we’re here to do it.” 

At issue is a labor contract between the port operators and the dockworkers’ union that was supposed to expire in July. 

Negotiators have been unable to agree to more than temporary extensions, and a federal mediator was brought in to help resolve the outstanding issues earlier this month. 

The labor strife at West Coast ports has worried retail groups in Washington about the economic impact of a potential shutdown, which they say would be catastrophic to the nation’s economy. 

The National Retail Federation and National Association of Manufacturers said in a study conducted in 2014 that a shutdown of ports in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle would cost the U.S. economy almost $2 billion per day. 

“The last prolonged port shutdown of the West Coast ports was the 10-day lockout in 2002 which some estimate cost the U.S. economy close to $1 billion a day and took months to recover from,” the groups said. 

“The NRF-NAM study estimates that a five-day stoppage would reduce GDP by $1.9 billion a day,” the statement on the study continued. “This would increase exponentially with a 20-day stoppage resulting in a loss of $2.5 billion a day.” 

Lawmakers have also expressed concerns about the potential for a work stoppage at ports along the West Coast. 

“The economic impact of the increased congestion at the ports is simply unacceptable and unsustainable,” Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinDem senators urged Obama to take action on Russia before election Senate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE and Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTime is now to address infrastructure needs Tom Steyer testing waters for Calif. gubernatorial bid Another day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs MORE, both Democrats from California, wrote in a letter to leaders on both sides of the standoff earlier this week.

"Ships have been diverted from California ports in search of more efficient offloading sites," the California senators continued. "Long term damage to the competitiveness of California ports may have already occurred. These are terrible circumstances.”

The port managers’ group said it is suspending “premium-pay weekend and holiday vessel operations on four upcoming dates” from Feb. 12-16. 

The association said “yard, gate and rail operations will continue at terminal operators’ discretion.”