The longshore workers union and employers on the West Coast have a tough task of negotiating a new contract, but a port slowdown makes matters worse.
Seattle Times Editorial, November 17, 2014
A SLOWDOWN at West Coast ports threatens to spoil Christmas. Would-be holiday gifts like Xbox Ones and toys sit undelivered. Thousands of pounds of apples destined for Asia could rot if the slowdown doesn’t end soon.
Beginning in late October, dock workers started moving containers from ships to trains or trucks at less than half the regular rate at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. The slowdown since has spread to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
This comes six months into negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on a new six-year labor contract for workers at West Coast ports. Talks started in May ahead of the previous contract expiring in July.
Washington’s U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell joined their counterparts in Oregon and California to urge both sides to come to an agreement. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has as well. Last week, a coalition of about 100 retailers, manufacturers and farmers requested President Obama to send in a federal arbitrator, and to prevent a complete shutdown.
The state and national economies depend heavily on moving goods into and out of ports. In Washington, about 40 percent of jobs in the state are trade-related, while West Coast ports contribute $2.1 trillion annually to the nation’s economy, according to the Pacific Maritime Association.
Both the ports of Seattle and Tacoma have lost market share in the past several years to ports in California, Canada and Mexico. They recently formed an alliance to become more competitive on a national and international scale. Keeping goods’ movement as efficient as possible should be a top priority for the union and employers. Customers will take notice and make different business decisions, some far-reaching that could permanently send more traffic through competing ports.
The current slowdown could cost millions in lost revenue for producers, retailers and workers along other parts of the supply chain. A shutdown — like the one employers imposed on longshore workers in 2002 — could cost billions worth of economic activity per day, according to the National Retail Federation.
None of the parties involved want to see the dispute go that far, but the slowdown demonstrates the uncertainty of what could happen next.
Both sides of the labor agreement must hammer out the best contract. A slowdown ends up hurting people and businesses absent from the bargaining table.
After more than six months at the bargaining table, the time has come to finalize an agreement.