U.S. West Coast Port Employers Seek Mediation in Dockworker Talks

Container ships sit in berths at the Port of Los Angeles, California October 15, 2014. A shortage of transportation equipment and possible labor disruptions at the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex, the nation's busiest, is delaying shipping containers for up to three weeks, threatening timely delivery to retailers for the holiday season. Picture taken October 15, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Container ships sit in berths at the Port of Los Angeles, California on October 15, 2014.(c)  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

reuters logoLOS ANGELES, Dec 22 (Reuters) – Shipping lines and terminal operators at 29 U.S. West Coast ports requested federal mediation on Monday in their contract talks with the union for 20,000 dockworkers, saying the two sides remain far from a deal after seven months of negotiations.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has so far resisted previous calls by the National Retail Federation and others for President Barack Obama to intervene in the talks through mediation, saying the parties were making slow but steady progress.

But the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) said the parties remained unable to clinch an agreement in the latest round of bargaining sessions, following an exchange of proposals with the union.

“After the latest back-and-forth between the parties failed to resolve their differences … PMA has now agreed that outside intervention is necessary to bring the talks to conclusion,” the management organization said in a statement.

There was no immediate response from the union. But both sides would have to consent in order for mediators to be brought into the negotiations, a spokesman for the PMA said.

The employers again accused the union of trying to gain bargaining leverage by orchestrating chronic cargo backups plaguing several West Coast ports since mid-October, most notably at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s two busiest container cargo hubs.

The employers said the slowdowns could permanently undermine their business, citing a recent industry survey conducted by the Journal of Commerce reporting that 60 percent of shippers have begun rerouting 2015 cargos away from U.S. West Coast ports to avoid problems there.

Union officials have denied causing the backups and point to other factors port officials identify as behind the gridlock. Chief among them is a shortage of tractor-trailer chassis used for hauling cargo from ports to warehouses, a situation created when shippers decided to sell off their chassis to third-party equipment-leasing companies.

The employers said no further talks were scheduled before the Christmas holiday. (Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Eric Beech)

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