WASHINGTON — The White House has dispatched Labor Secretary Tom Perez to California to help mediate between unionized dockworkers and cargo carriers and terminal operators deadlocked over a new labor contract that has temporarily shut down West Coast ports over the holiday weekend and caused severe delays and slowdowns for months.
“The negotiations over the functioning of the West Coast Ports have been taking place for months with the administration urging the parties to resolve their differences,” said Eric Schultz, White House deputy press secretary. “Out of concern for the economic consequences of further delay, the President has directed his Secretary of Labor Tom Perez travel to California to meet with the parties to urge them to resolve their dispute quickly at the bargaining table.”
Schultz said Perez has already been in contact 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, and will keep President Obama fully updated.
“We welcome the administration’s attention to this important national and international economic and supply chain issue and hope it recommits the two sides to reaching a deal,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain at the National Retail Federation. “The slowdowns, congestion and suspensions at the West Coast ports need to end now.”
The PMA and ILWU have been negotiating a new contract for over nine months and the delay in reaching a new contract has already had an adverse economic impact on businesses and farmers across the country.
The impasse also drew scrutiny on Capitol Hill in recent days. Lawmakers, who have held hearings and press conferences, introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives on Thursday, calling on both sides to act swiftly to resolve their differences. Many lawmakers also called on President Obama to use personal diplomacy to urge the two sides to reach an agreement.
The congestion and delays intensified at West Coast ports on Friday as the line of ships waiting for berths continued to grow amid a four-day suspension ordered by the PMA.
Juanita Duggan, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said sending the U.S. Labor Secretary to help broker an agreement in the West Coast port contract negotiations was a “positive step toward ending the logjam.
“By sending the Secretary of Labor to intervene, the administration is sending a strong signal that this is a serious issue with real economic consequences that needs to be resolved, and resolved quickly,” Duggan said. “The unending port dispute has caused severe disruption across the 29 West Coast ports at a very steep cost to our industry and the U.S. economy as a whole. Through these ports, over half of all clothing and shoes sold in the U.S. is imported.”