WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has intensified its involvement in the West Coast port standoff, revealing late Wednesday that Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker had joined Labor Secretary Tom Perez in San Francisco to help broker a deal in the contract dispute that has crippled international commerce and taken a financial toll on businesses and farmer across the country.
“The administration will continue to work with both parties, in addition to business leaders, workers and elected officials as talks continue,” the Labor Department said in a statement.
Perez, who has been in San Francisco since Monday, has had “positive and productive” meetings with the two sides deadlocked over a new labor contract, according to the Labor Department.
”On behalf of President Obama, Secretary Perez made clear that the dispute has led to a very negative impact on the U.S. economy, and further delay risks tens of thousands of jobs and will cost American businesses hundreds of millions of dollars,” labor officials said.
“While the parties have made tremendous progress, Secretary Perez stressed that it’s imperative the parties come to an immediate agreement to prevent further damage to our economy and further pain for American workers and their employers.”
The two Cabinet officials and other local and state officials are meeting with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents 72 multinational cargo carriers and terminal operators and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 20,000 dockworkers, to help resolve outstanding issues and reach a deal. The PMA and ILWU have been negotiating a new contract for more than nine months and the delay in reaching a new contract has led to temporary shutdowns and widespread delays and congestion at 29 West Coast ports.
Retail and apparel brand trade groups have been pressing the Obama administration to take action, as companies have had to reroute their Asian shipments through other ports and resort to expensive air freight to get their goods into stores.
In addition to the in-person meetings with leadership from the ILWU and PMA, Perez had calls with a number of state and local elected officials, including Washington Governor Jay Inslee, California Governor Jerry Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to “discuss the impact of the ongoing dispute on their local, import-driven economies.”