Obama Sends Labor Secretary to Resolve Port Dispute

Damian Dovarganes/AP
Damian Dovarganes/AP

President Obama ordered Labor Sec. Tom Perezto to resolve a simmering labor dispute ship owners and longshoremen that could incapacitate 29 West Coast ports. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Assn. met Friday to attempt a resolution, but failed.

The union has been working without a contract since last July. By fall, the impasse between the two sides became public as the shippers alleged the union workers were slacking to force the shippers to capitulate. The Pacific Maritime Assn. said the union has not used enough skilled crane operators who transfer cargo containers onto trucks and rail cars, so the docks are jammed. The union responded that it limited the number of crane operators because accidents proved that the operators had to be fully trained, and employers haven’t rained enough workers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the shippers finally responded, preventing any unloading of ships this weekend and Monday, which has funneled the imported products from Asia into a narrow pipeline that delays their delivery to stores in Southern California. The stores can opt to reroute shipments through the East Coast, but the cost can be prohibitive.

Forty percent of America’s imported container cargo arrives at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. In 2013, around $400 billion worth of goods was shuttled through them. San Pedro’s port has been slowed considerably since last September.

Although the two sides have tentatively agreed on healthcare benefits and the responsibility for the union to maintain truck trailers, the major stumbling block remaining is whether both sides approval is needed for the removal of arbitrators or if one side can unilaterally demand such a removal.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Saturday that Obama sent Perez “out of concern for the economic consequences of further delay … to urge them to resolve their dispute quickly at the bargaining table,” he said.

Economists and trade experts said that the ports’ closures would not profoundly affect the nation as a whole, but have a deleterious impact on Southern California’s economy. One billion dollars in goods are delivered at the San Pedro ports daily, and 12.5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product can be related to goods coming to the 29 West Coast ports.. Sung Won Sohn, a former commissioner at the Port of Los Angeles, told the Times, “The port is an economic engine of Southern California. If one of the cylinders doesn’t operate properly, clearly we’ll all be hurt.”


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