The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers at 29 West Coast ports, asked for federal mediation Monday in its contract negotiations with the International Longshore & Warehouse Union.

This story first appeared in the December 23, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

PMA said it had hoped the parties could reach resolution without outside aid, but after the latest back-and-forth between the parties failed to resolve their differences, the association now feels outside intervention is necessary to bring the talks to conclusion.

PMA said this also comes after what it described as “ILWU work slowdowns” that it said have disrupted cargo movement at the major West Coast ports of Tacoma and Seattle, Wash., and Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.

“After seven months of negotiations, we remain far apart on many issues,” said a PMA spokesman. “At the same time, the union continues its slowdowns, walk-offs and other actions that are having impacts on shippers, truck drivers and other local workers, with no end in sight. It is clear that the parties need outside assistance to bridge the substantial gap between us.”

PMA cited a recent industry survey conducted by the Journal of Commerce that found 60 percent of shippers have already rerouted cargos for 2015 away from the U.S. West Coast to avoid the problems, with many shippers saying their diversions will be permanent.

“We began negotiations seven months ago by underscoring everyone’s concerns about the West Coast loss of market share, which directly impacts local jobs and economies,” the PMA spokesman said. “We emphasized our commitment to good-faith bargaining and the importance of ensuring that there were no disruptions or other actions that would cause shippers to lose confidence in the future of our ports. Unfortunately, the ILWU’s slowdowns are causing those concerns to grow, and it is clear we need outside intervention to allow us to reach consensus on the issues between us.”

Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain at the National Retail Federation, said, “For the last several months, the nation’s retailers, manufacturers, farmers and others have witnessed a dramatic increase in port congestion. The congestion may have many causes. but we believe it is due, in part, to the lack of a new labor contract. The National Retail Federation has been steadfast in its calls on the White House to engage in the contract talks and we urge the administration to accept PMA’s offer to appoint a federal mediator to help resolve the current congestion crisis at the West Coast ports. A federal mediator was key to resolving the East and Gulf Coast ports contract in 2012, and it can do the same for the West Coast ports in 2014.”

The ILWU could not be reached for comment.

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