Secretary of Labor Urges Resolution to West Coast Port Labor Negotiations

On Sunday, February 15, President Obama sent US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to San Francisco, CA to meet with leaders of the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), who have been negotiating a new labor agreement to cover 29 West Coast ports following the expiration of the previous agreement in July. The increased participation by the Administration comes after a federal mediator from the Department of Labor was sent to assist in negotiations, but failed to resolve the ongoing issues. Secretary Perez met with the leaders of both negotiating parties, and also put in calls to state and local officials impacted by the port negotiations and cargo congestion, including Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, California Governor Jerry Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, and others.

Secretary Perez made clear to both the PMA and ILWU leadership that the stalled negotiations have led to a very negative impact on the U.S. economy, and that further delays risk tens of thousands of jobs and will cost American businesses hundreds of millions of dollars. Last weekend, the PMA closed the 29 West Coast Ports on Thursday, February 12; Saturday, February 14; Sunday February 15; and Monday, February 16. The PMA made the decision to close the ports, despite a serious and continually increasing cargo backup, to reduce labor costs during a period of diminished productivity. Were the ports to remain open, shippers would be obligated to pay higher holiday and weekend wages to ILWU workers who staff the ports.

Should the negotiations continue to stall, a potential next step for the Administration would be to declare a national emergency under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act and force a solution. Such action was most recently taken by a President in 2002, when George W. Bush used Taft-Hartley as a means to stop a previous 12-day shutdown of the West Coast Ports. A similar long-term shutdown at the West Coast ports today could have up to a $2 billion daily negative impact on the national economy.

If you have questions about the issues surrounding the West Coast port negotiations, please contact Will Sehestedt on TIA’s Government Affairs team by e-mail, or 703-299-5713.