Port impasse continues despite ‘productive’ Labor chief meetings

Port impasse continues despite ‘productive’ Labor chief meetings
© Getty Images

Labor Secretary Tom PerezThomas PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE has held “positive and productive” meetings with both sides of a labor standoff that has stalled the flow of cargo packages at 29 ports along the West Coast, although a resolution has not yet been reached, officials with the Labor Department said Wednesday. 

“On behalf of President Obama, Secretary Perez made clear that the dispute has led to a very negative impact on the U.S. economy, and further delay risks tens of thousands of jobs and will cost American businesses hundreds of millions of dollars,”  a Labor Department official said in a statement that was provided to The Hill. 

“While the parties have made tremendous progress, Secretary Perez stressed that it's imperative the parties come to an immediate agreement to prevent further damage to our economy and further pain for American workers and their employers,” the labor official continued. 

ADVERTISEMENT

At issue is a labor contract between the managers at ports that normally process 340 million tons of cargo that is shipped via truck and rail to cities across the country and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents dock workers, that was supposed to expire in July. 

Perez was brought in after retail groups pressured the White House to intervene in the standoff, after the Pacific Maritime Association, which handles labor negotiations for port managers, decided to close ports in Washington, Oregon and California from Feb. 12-16 due to the labor strife. 

Prior to Perez’s arrival in California, negotiators failed to agree to anything more than temporary extensions, and a federal mediator that was brought in resolve the issues was also unable to forge a deal. 

The Labor Department said Wednesday that Perez was meeting with everyone who has a stake in reaching a resolution to the port labor fight. 

“In addition to today’s in-person meetings, Secretary Perez had calls with a number of state and local elected officials, including Gov. Jay Inslee [D-Wash.], Gov. Jerry Brown [D-Calif.], Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti [D], Seattle Mayor Ed Murray [D], Long Beach, [Calif.], Mayor Robert Garcia [D], Oakland, [Calif.], Mayor Libby Schaaf [D], Tacoma, [Wash.], Mayor Marilyn Strickland and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee [D] to discuss the impact of the ongoing dispute on their local, import-driven economies,” the labor department official said. “Secretary Perez will continue to meet with both parties on Wednesday while continuing to regularly brief senior administration officials on the ongoing negotiations.”

The port labor strife has worried retail groups, who say a prolonged shutdown could be catastrophic for the nation’s economy, for months. 

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

Retail groups urged Perez to convince to negotiators in the port standoff to reach a deal quickly. 

“As management and labor have wrangled over terms for a new long-term contract, the slowdown has been a logistical nightmare for companies dependent on a functioning supply chain,” Retail Industry Leaders Association consultant Mickey Kantor, who is former U.S. trade representative, wrote in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday.

“Manufacturers are missing parts and raw materials, retailers are missing inventory and farmers are seeing the fruit of their labor literally rot before it can be shipped to customers overseas,” Kantor continued. “All of this means our economy is losing steam and losing customers — an untenable situation.” 

Kantor said the Obama administration might have to do more to end the labor standoff at West Coast ports than sending in Perez. 

“President Obama has directed Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to engage in the dispute to revive negotiations, which is a welcome sign,” he wrote. “He is scheduled to meet Tuesday with the employer group, the Pacific Maritime Assn., and with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. But the president must be prepared to use his bully pulpit — and all other means at his disposal — to ensure that our nation remains open for business.”