Supply chain stakeholders call on US president to engage in West Coast Ports contract dispute

RetailME Bureau

Over 160 national, state and local trade associations and organisations – representing the interests of the global supply chain and local communities – wrote to US president Barack Obama urging the administration’s immediate involvement in the ongoing contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). The ILWU and PMA have been negotiating a new labour contract, which covers dockworkers at the 29 West Coast ports.

“The supply chain community is united in its call on the president to appoint a federal mediator to help the parties resolve the ongoing contract dispute. After months of talks, the two sides have made very little discernible progress toward a new contract; however, they have succeeded in disrupting the global supply chain, increasing port congestion for importers and exporters, delaying shipments for retailers, manufacturers, farmers and others and potentially harming the long-term competitiveness of the West Coast ports,” says Jonathan Gold, National Retail Federation (NRF) vice president for supply chain.

The supply chain letter follows PMA’s official request for the appointment of a federal mediator to assist in the contract negotiations, and compliments an earlier letter to the White House in November, which called on the administration to consider appointing a mediator through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. To date that request, as well as several others made by shippers and stakeholders, has gone unanswered.

“The administration must act now to appoint a federal mediator as the collective bargaining process has stalled while the congestion crisis continues at the West Coast ports. For the sake of the US economy, the global supply chain, let alone the president’s own international trade and export agenda, the parties must agree to accept a federal mediator to help settle the stalemate,” adds Gold.

The ILWU and PMA have been negotiating a new labour contract since mid-May. The previous contract expired on July 1, 2014. Even though the two sides have been meeting regularly, recent reports of labour slowdowns and increasing port congestion have alarmed the supply chain community and raised fears of a potential port shutdown.

“The longer these negotiations continue, the greater the negative impact this will have on jobs, down-stream consumers and the business operations of exporters, importers, retailers, transportation providers, manufacturers and other stakeholders. With an official request from the PMA for a mediator, we urge the administration to work with both parties to appoint a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service,” the letter states.