California’s senators are calling for a swift resolution to a labor fight that is threatening the flow of cargo packages at ports along the West Coast.
Sens. Diane Feinstein (D) and Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFormer California senator prods Feinstein to consider retirement Trump decries 'defund the police' after Boxer attacked Former Sen. Barbara Boxer attacked in California MORE (D) said in a letter to port managers and leaders of the union that represents dockworkers that the need to negotiate a deal quickly because the labor strife has been contributing to congestion at several of the nation’s busiest ports.
“Time is absolutely of the essence because significant economic damage has already been done to those people and businesses that rely on the efficient functioning of our ports,” the senators wrote.
“The economic impact of the increased congestion at the ports is simply unacceptable and unsustainable,” the duo continued. “At the time of this writing, seventeen ships are anchored at bay awaiting the opportunity to come into port at the Port of Oakland. Twenty-two ships are anchored at bay awaiting the chance to dock at the Los Angeles - Long Beach Port Complex. As we understand it, in normal times these ships rarely have to wait to dock. Ships have been diverted from California ports in search of more efficient offloading sites. Long term damage to the competitiveness of California ports may have already occurred. These are terrible circumstances.”
The current contract between the union that represents West Coast port workers, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU); and the group that represent port operators, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), was supposed to expire in July.
Negotiators have thus far 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.
Boxer and Feinstein said it was time for the two sides to reach a deal.
“We strongly urge you to focus on the remaining issues at hand and to reject any further pressure tactics which contribute to the slowdown,” they wrote.
“We urge you both to recognize that the current impasse has serious and troubling ramifications for our state and for our nation,” Boxer and Feinstein continued. “The stakes are far too high for the status quo to persist. It is imperative that you achieve an agreement immediately.”
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.”
Boxer and Feinstein said in their letter that they agreed with the retail groups’ conclusions.
“The continued congestion, delays, terminal closures, night shift reductions, and slowdowns at the ports have led to extremely late deliveries and billions of dollars in disrupted sales of critically needed goods, including agriculture and textile products in important export markets,” they wrote. “This is an especially grave concern as it could potentially undermine long term demand for American products.”
The port operators’ group has blamed the cargo ship congestion along the West Coast on a slowdown they say is being purposely conducted by the dockworkers’ union.
“The PMA has a sense of urgency to resolve these contract talks and get our ports moving again,” PMA spokesman Steve Getzug said in a statement last month. “Unfortunately, it appears the union’s motivation is to continue slowdowns in an attempt to gain leverage in the bargaining. The ILWU slowdowns and the resulting operational environment are no longer sustainable.”
The dockworkers’ union is offering a starkly different take, blaming port managers for cargo congestion.
“Longshore workers are ready, willing and able to clear the backlog created by the industry’s poor decisions,” ILWU President Bob McEllrath responded in a statement of his own. “The employer is making nonsensical moves like cutting back on shifts at a critical time, creating gridlock in a cynical attempt to turn public opinion against workers. This creates an incendiary atmosphere during negotiations and does nothing to get us closer to an agreement.”