All quiet on the waterfront? Labor Secretary joins port negotiations

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pressure to negotiate a resolution to ongoing labor disputes for dockworkers at some of America’s largest ports continued to build this week.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez arrived in San Francisco last weekend to address the problem. The secretary’s arrival comes after months of calls by retail organizations for the White House to step in and broker a new labor contract between the Pacific Maritime Association and workers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Perez joined Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in the negotiations over a contract that affects 29 ports.

The slowdown dropped freight movement by 18 percent in January at the Port of Long Beach. If the port work slowdowns continue, the U.S. economy could lose between $3 and $8 billion, some experts have estimated.

“We have been strongly urging the two parties to come to an agreement on a new contract so we can clear the backlog of cargo on the docks and the ships anchored off the coast,” Long Beach Chief Executive Jon Slangerup said, according to a port news release.

On Wednesday morning, several labor organizations including the Teamsters announced that a continued port shutdown at Los Angeles and Long Beach would spur an “unprecedented effort to secure unemployment benefits and other financial assistance for misclassified port truck drivers.”

“If the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach shut down in the coming days because of stalled longshoremen contract negotiations, more than 10,000 port truck drivers misclassified as ‘independent contractors’ by their employers will be idled without pay or apparent access to unemployment benefits,” a news release from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 848 said.

Barb Maynard, a spokeswoman with the Teamsters, is watching the negotiations closely. Port truckers, she said, need freight moving at normal capacity.

“We hope a fair settlement can be reached soon between the ILWU and PMA,” Maynard told Land Line Magazine. “But the Teamsters have been focused on winning justice for the thousands of port truck drivers who will be idled if the ports shut down.”

While the port slowdown has been highlighted at Los Angeles and Long Beach, the labor situation has hurt other West Coast cities. The Port of Portland reported a container cargo traffic drop of 80 percent during one day of work protests.

The port slowdown has caused ships to be docked outside of ports, raising emissions from ships. The increases, however, are likely offset by fewer trucks working at port shipping yards.

The Port of Los Angeles suggested truck drivers check port websites for status updates and call shipping lines to ensure they’ll have access for their loads.

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