$19M worth of rotten apples per week: Port slowdown continues to hurt industries, workers

Sarah Aitchison, December 16, 2014, Puget Sound Business Journal

Ports along the West Coast were stalled this year because of contract negotiations between the representative of terminal operators, the Pacific Maritime Association, and the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union.

The six-year contract expired July 1. The two parties have been negotiating since May, without success.

And that’s causing ports along the West Coast to operate slower. The PMA blames the labor union. It claims union workers intentionally slowed down work beginning Oct. 31. The ILWU said less efficient ports are the result of changes in the industry, such as shortages of necessary transportation accessories and a difference in the way carriers operate, which is causing the slowdowns.

The two parties meet near daily to continue negotiations and say they’re making progress on a deal. But in the meantime, Washington state’s import and export industries are suffering.

Washington state’s apple industry alone is losing approximately $19 million a week, said Rebecca Lyons of the Washington state Apple Commission. That’s 300 container loads of apple rotting each week.

But it’s not just the crops that aren’t moving. Workers at the docks who aren’t union affiliated are unable to get expected hours because of slowdowns.

In Washington state, 40 percent of jobs are linked to trade.

Hundreds of organizations and individuals have sent letters to President Barack Obama, federal agencies and West Coast governors asking for relief. Obama has said he won’t step in while talks continue and the ports operate.

Other legislators have also been unwilling to get involved. Jamie Smith spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said the governor is aware of the problem and following developments, but the problem is larger than he can control.

Twelve years ago the PMA locked out the labor union during negotiations. At the time, then-President George W. Bush invoked Taft-Hartley Act to force the two parties back to work. The clash cost the U.S. economy an estimated $1 billion a day.

Because the ports are in operation, the federal government can’t intervene without both parties approval.

Craig Merrilees, spokesman for the ILWU said that the ports will continue to operate.

Wade Gates, spokesman for the PMA, didn’t rule anything out.

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