Feds to mediate West Coast port strike

Federal mediators will attempt to resolve a strike that has halted shipments at West Coast ports, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Tuesday. 

FMCS Director George Cohen said the service will mediate talks between the AFL-CIO-affiliated International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association group that represents port managers in southern California. 

Negotiations between the union and the ports on a new labor contract have stalled, resulting in a week-long strike port officials say has closed 10 of 14 terminals in the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports.

Cohen said the federal mediation was sought by both sides. 

"Based on a joint request from the parties, negotiations between the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union Office Clerical Workers and the Harbor Employers Association will be conducted under FMCS auspices," he said in a statement. "I and Deputy Director Scot L. Beckenbaugh will convene the parties for an initial meeting at a date and location to be determined."

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Groups representing retailers who ship products through the West Coast ports have called for the federal government to intervene in the work stoppage for several days.

"This strike is now at the national emergency stage impacting industries far and wide," National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay said in a letter to President Obama earlier this week.

" ‘Urging’ both sides toward a solution is not the answer," Shay continued. "The Obama Administration needs to show leadership and resolve to get the ports operational again and prevent any further economic damage.”

The FMCS is mediating a similar labor dispute that threatened to stop shipments to ports on the East Coast earlier this fall. However, negotiators in that case agreed on an extension of the facilities' existing collective bargaining agreement through the end of December to prevent a holiday work stoppage.