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West Coast port leaders ask for federal mediator in labor talks

Cargo Business News

The heads of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach joined a group of stakeholders in asking President Obama to appoint a federal mediator to help employers and union dockworkers to reach an agreement on a new labor contract.

Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, and Jon Slangerup, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, are reportedly ready for help from the White House to apply some pressure to the labor talks. This week both executives have been making public statements requesting federal arbitration.

Representatives of the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore Workers Union continued to negotiate over the weekend. They attempted to reach some sort of tentative agreement before the ILWU holds a caucus in San Francisco on Dec. 15. If the two parties can agree upon a tentative contract by Dec. 15, the caucus will be held on whether to accept or reject the agreement.

Usually a federal mediator isn’t called into the negotiations unless both sides agree to ask for help.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers at West Coast ports, has been negotiating with the International Longshore Workers Union since May, trying to reach a new contract to replace the 6-year contract that expired July 1.

Port productivity has declined dramatically since Oct. 31, after the two sides concluded a largely unsuccessful bargaining session. The PMA accused longshore workers of deliberately slowing work. The union insists the slowed pace is a result of a chronic list of problems that range from processing super-sized ships to chassis shortages and terminal mismanagement.

The slowdown continued Monday in Tacoma, Seattle, Los Angeles and Long Beach.  Agricultural exporters have reported the shipping delays are backing up supply lines and creating serious economic damage, hurting their reputation among overseas buyers.

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