Editorial: As contract negotiations drag on, get ports back to full speed

Union dock workers have a right to bargain for a new contract, but slowing down the port hurts businesses and consumers.

November 28, 2014, Seattle Times

CARGO headed to Alaska from the Port of Tacoma is moving out without disruptions even while a dockworker slowdown continues to stall other containers of goods at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

 

Leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union realized that slowing down shipments to Alaska would cause major problems for that remote state. The Port of Tacoma handles 70 percent of goods sent there by ship.

 

“We understand how time-sensitive operations are in terms of groceries,” Dean McGrath, president of ILWU Local 23, told The Seattle Times’ reporter Carol Garnick.

 

The unions should spread that concern around. Those concerns about time sensitivity also should apply to the Christmas trees destined for Asia, apple shipments from this year’s bumper crop and holiday gifts sitting unloaded in Puget Sound.

 

For a month now, shipping containers have been moving at less than half of the regular rate while the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, a group of employers, hash out a new six-year labor contract for close to 20,000 dock workers at 29 portsalong the West Coast.

 

The slowdown is causing major delays for hundreds of logistics companies, food producers, truck drivers and retailers waiting to stock shelves.

 

The slowdown started around Halloween in Seattle and Tacoma and later reached the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif. Dock workers have been working without a contract since July 1.

 

Negotiations, which started in May, are on hold for a union-requested 12-day break. They are scheduled to resume Tuesday.

 

In a trade-focused state like Washington, the lag is more than an inconvenience to some businesses. It threatens to cripple the trade industry, which generates about 40 percent of the state’s jobs.

 

Union leaders and supporters say slowing down shipments is the only way workers can put pressure on employers now that contract negotiations have stretched on for seven months.

 

Union workers have the right to bargain for their best interests, but the slowdown harms companies and consumers who have nothing to do with the contract negotiations. Washington Gov. Jay

Inslee has largely been silent publicly on the issue. He and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with their counterparts from California and Oregon, should increase the pressure to end the slowdown.

 

This slowdown is hurting the entire state unnecessarily. Employers and union leaders are both responsible for finalizing a contract as soon as possible.

 

It’s well past time to get ports operating at full speed.

 

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