U.S. Sen. Patty Murray: Port dispute comes down to one person, one issue

Joel Connelly, February 19, 2015, Seattle PI


The holdups, work slowdowns and lockouts at West Coast ports have boiled down to “one issue” and “one person,” according to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.


Murray had a conversation late Wednesday with U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who is seeking to mediate between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 20,000 West Coast dockworkers.


“It is insolvable, but it has to be solved,” Murray said.


Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., both get an “F” grade from the National Rifle Association for their votes on gun safety issues..

Sens. Patty Murray describes dispute at West Coast ports as “crazy” and revolving around “one issue” and “one person.”

In a situation that Murray described as “crazy,” a single issue has produced impasse after nine months of negotiations.


The ILWU is insisting on immediate removal of David Miller, an arbitrator of waterfront disputes at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, largest in the United States. The Pacific Maritime Association has dug in its heels against a change of rules that would get rid of him.


“I’m bewildered as anybody else on the outside looking in,” Miller told The Associated Press earlier this week.


And California Gov. Jerry Brown said, bluntly: ”After nine months of bargaining, to be hung up on what appears to be arcane process issues is unacceptable. Get it done, guys.”


The dispute saw longshore workers locked out over the long President’s Day weekend: The slowdown in loading and unloading ships came at an estimated cost to the U.S. economy of $1.9 billion a day.


The ports along the West Coast, including Seattle and Tacoma, handle half of America’s maritime trade. They also take in 70 percent of U.S. imports from Asia. Seattle and Tacoma ship out billions of dollars in agricultural exports each year.


“Everyone has to give,” added Murray. She described Perez, the negotiator in the middle, as a “very good person.”


On Wednesday, after trade round-tables in Tacoma and Portland, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker joined talks in Los Angeles. In an interview with seattlepi.com, Pritzker described as “enormous” the potential impacts of the port dispute for U,S. trade with Asia.


“This impasse has dragged on way too long and is playing havoc with international trade, an essential component of Washington’s economy,” said Gov. Jay Inslee, who also talked to Perez on Wednesday.


“I understand there are important issues at stake but it is time to settle before any more damage is done.”


California Governor Jerry Brown: “After nine months of bargaining, to be hung up on what appears to be arcane process issues in unacceptable.  Get it done, guys.”

The dispute has seen political posturing.


Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., sent out a news release on the port impasse saying:  “I’ve heard from too many farmers in Eastern Washington who are living in fear of bankruptcy as a result.”


The left wing of the Seattle City Council — Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant — sent out a hero letter supporting the union, blaming the Pacific Maritime Association and accusing it of “intimidation” tactics.


At least it did not have multiple “whereas” clauses in the manner of most Licata-O’Brien resolutions.


The association sent out a missive late Wednesday calling on dock workers to defy the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.  And that’s something that hasn’t happened on the West Coast in 80 years.


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