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Trade groups want federal intervention in West Coast port fight

The Hill

A group of 166 trade associations is calling on President Obama to intervene in a labor fight that is threatening the flow of packages at ports along the West Coast.

The current contract between the union that represents West Coast port workers, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), was supposed to expire in July, but negotiators have thus far been unable to agree to more than temporary extensions.

The trade groups said in a letter to Obama on Tuesday that it was time for the federal government to step in to help negotiate a long-term agreement.

“The undersigned associations representing United States manufacturers, farmers, wholesalers, retailers, importers, exporters, and transportation and logistics providers are again writing to express our continued concerns with the status of the West Coast port labor negotiations and the impact the ongoing congestion and slowdowns are having on all segments of the economy,” the groups wrote to the president.

“We are seeking your help in moving the negotiations to mediation similar to what occurred during the contentious East Coast port labor negotiations in 2012,” the letter continued. “The labor contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) began on May 15, 2014 and it seems little progress has occurred since the contract expired on July 1, 2014. While there was optimism with the latest exchange of comprehensive proposals last week, the recent statement by PMA that the parties are not close to an agreement and ‘remain far apart on several issues’ is very concerning.”

The labor strife at West Coast ports has worried retail groups in Washington about the economic impact of a potential shutdown, which they say would be catastrophic to the nation’s economy.

The National Retail Federation and National Association of Manufacturers said in a study conducted earlier this year that a shutdown of ports in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle would cost the U.S. economy almost $2 billion per day.

“The last prolonged port shutdown of the West Coast ports was the 10-day lockout in 2002 which some estimate cost the U.S. economy close to $1 billion a day and took months to recover from,” the groups said.

“The NRF-NAM study estimates that a five-day stoppage would reduce GDP by $1.9 billion a day,” the statement on the study continued. “This would increase exponentially with a 20-day stoppage resulting in a loss of $2.5 billion a day.”

The groups that wrote to Obama Tuesday said they were already starting to feel the effects of the labor issues at ports along the West Coast.

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