Longshoremen Contract Talks Threaten U.S. West Coast Ports

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June 23, 2014

By Mark Niquette

June 23 (Bloomberg) — Business groups are urging longshoremen and their employers to avoid a dispute that could cripple ports along the West Coast and affect billions of dollars in commerce.

A six-year pact between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents about 20,000 dock workers at 29 West Coast ports, expires June 30, both sides said in joint June 4 release. Negotiations began in May. The ports account for about half of all U.S. maritime trade and more than 70 percent of imports from Asia, according to the association.

A failure to agree and a resulting halt to shipments will have “serious economy-wide impacts,” a coalition of organizations representing U.S. manufacturers, farmers, wholesalers, retailers, distributors, and other groups wrote in a May 9 letter to union President Robert McEllrath and association President James McKenna.

“The potential for disruptions in the flow of commerce at West Coast ports is creating uncertainty in a fragile economic climate and forcing many businesses to develop contingency plans that come at a significant cost to jobs and our economic competitiveness,” according to the letter.

About 1 million tons of cargo are shipped through West Coast ports each day, and in 2013 longshore workers, clerks and foremen were paid $1.39 billion, according to the San Francisco- based Pacific Maritime Association, which represents cargo carriers and dock employers at West Coast ports.

Both sides have said they are unlikely to agree on a contract before the current one expires and will continue negotiating after it does, the Associated Press reported today. In 2002, an agreement wasn’t reached until about Thanksgiving after a 10-day lockout, the AP said.

A 2012 strike by clerical employees at the ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach hobbled the nation’s largest port complex, affecting an estimated $1 billion of cargo a day and idling thousands of workers without pay.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.

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