A Republican senator is calling for a federal review of the impact of a labor standoff at West Coast ports that crippled the flow of cargo earlier this year.
Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerAustin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal After messy Afghanistan withdrawal, questions remain House Democrats press leaders to include more funding for electric vehicles in spending plan MORE (R-Neb.) said Thursday that the General Accountability Office (GAO) should review the financial costs of a backlog at 29 ports on the West Coast that were shut down around Valentine’s Day because of a dispute between managers and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents dock workers.
“As you may know, on June 30, 2014, the contract between International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and PMA began in mid-May 2014; inability to come to an agreement led to a longstanding contract negotiations dispute,” Fischer wrote in a letter to GAO Comptroller General Gene Dorado.
“On February 20, 2014, the ILWU and PMA announced a tentative deal,” Fischer, who is chairwoman of the Senate’s merchant maritime subcommittee, continued. “Throughout the nine-month dispute, stalled negotiation caused widespread delays in cargo movement, inventory shortfalls at retail stores, crop losses to agriculture producers, and input delivery delays to manufacturers.”
The temporary shutdown of the West Coast drew attention in Washington when President Obama sent Labor Secretary Tom Perez to Los Angeles to mediate talks between the dockworkers’ union and port managers.
The contract between the port operators and the ILWU was supposed to have been renewed in July 2014, but negotiations dragged on for months and the standoff resulted in several large cargo ships idling at sea.
Fischer said Wednesday that the standoff has impacts that reached far beyond the West Coast of the U.S.
“Seaports serve as gateways to domestic and international commerce, connecting U.S. business, workers and consumers to the global marketplace,” she wrote. “West Coast ports, in particular, are key hubs for international trade, handling nearly half of all U.S. maritime imports and exports, including inputs for manufacturers in Nebraska and across the states.”
Fischer added that other forms of transportation are also impacted by the flow of cargo through ports.
“Freight infrastructure, such as railroads, inland waterways and highways, is essential to the efficient flow of goods through our nation's ports,” she wrote. “Service interruptions at our nation's ports could significantly disrupt our national transportation supply chain, sending ripples through the U.S. economy.”
Fischer asked the GAO to complete its review of the West Coast port situation within 18 months.