WASHINGTON — The stalemate over a labor contract at West Coast ports sparked more concern on Capitol Hill Thursday as House lawmakers turned up the pressure on the two sides involved in the negotiations that have dragged on for months and caused severe delays and widespread financial losses.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) led a group of bipartisan lawmakers at a press conference who outlined the scope of the adverse negative impact on a broad swath of the economy, ranging from pork producers in Iowa to apple growers in Washington state to mom-and-pop retailers in California.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents nearly 20,000 dockworkers, and the Pacific Maritime Association, which includes more than 70 multinational ocean carriers and waterfront companies, have been locked in contract negotiations since early May, but both sides have been unable to reach a final deal to replace the contract that expired on July 1.
“Nobody wins in the current situation,” McCarthy said. “Everyone loses because of what is going on. This is something that cannot continue.”
Rep. Dave Reichert (R., Wash.) said one grower in his district has already laid off 200 out of 1,000 employees and is losing $1 million a week due to the slowdowns, delays and congestion at the West Coast ports.
“For my district, I’ve heard from apple growers and hay producers who have lost half their businesses and in turn have had to lay off employees because they are unable to export products in a timely matter,” Reichert said.
The problem is also heavily impacting retailers trying to stock their shelves.
“This week I heard from a small men’s clothing retailer in Washington that might soon have to shut its doors if ports do not open,” Reichert said. “The story is the same across the country. That is why we joined together to call attention to this issue today because its impact is not only in Washington state but across the country — it’s a critical impact.”
Reichert said he and Reps. Jim Costa (D., Calif.), Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.) and Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.) planned to introduce a nonbinding resolution in the House expressing the sense of Congress that the “parties should swiftly come to an agreement.”
“This has gone on far too long,” Reichert said.
The lawmakers also called on President Obama to use some personal diplomacy to put pressure on the PMA and ILWU.
Obama is expected to be at Stanford University for a cybersecurity summit on Friday, not far from where the two sides are said to be at the negotiating table in San Francisco.
The lawmakers noted that Obama cannot intervene in the dispute until a strike or lockout occurs. If either of those actions happen, the President can invoke his authority under the Taft-Hartley Act, which would lead to a string of actions, including a request in federal court for an injunction prohibiting a strike for 80 days and federal mediation with binding arbitration to settle the dispute. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service did enter the dispute in January after receiving a joint request from the ILWU and PMA, but not under the mandate of binding arbitration.