By Anthony Palazzo
(Bloomberg) — U.S. mediators agreed to join labor talks at West Coast ports, seeking to revive stalled negotiations between dockworkers and shipping firms.
The sides made a joint request for assistance, Allison Beck, acting director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said in a statement.
Contract negotiations between shippers and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union, under way for months, have become more acrimonious in recent weeks, with dueling press releases amid delays and goods piling up at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
“We are prepared and ready to render prompt assistance,” Beck said in the statement.
Negotiations began in May on a deal to replace a six-year labor pact that expired on July 1. Each side upheld a pledge to avoid a work stoppage during the busy shipping season ahead of the Christmas holidays.
In November, the White House said it was monitoring the talks, after shippers accused dockworkers of a slowdown.
The dispute affects about 20,000 members of the ILWU in 29 ports including Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two biggest in the U.S. by container volume.
Retailers and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shippers, had been asking for federal mediation to address disagreements over wages, pensions, jurisdiction and work rules.
“The National Retail Federation welcomes the news that the ILWU and PMA have agreed to federal mediation,” the retail group said in a statement. “After months of heated rhetoric and increasing congestion, this is the first positive news from the West Coast ports in some time.”
The two sides announced a provisional deal on health-care expenses in late August, without disclosing terms. Another issue is how to retrain and preserve jobs for dockworkers as automation reduces the number of positions.
Federal mediators didn’t say where or when the sides would meet.
Copyright 2015 Bloomberg.