President Barack Obama is sending his labor secretary to California to meet with both sides in a contract dispute that has affected the flow of goods from Asia into West Coast ports. Secretary Tom Perez’s mission is to meet with the parties — the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on one side, the Pacific Maritime Association on the other — and press them to quickly settle their differences at the negotiating table.
Until the matter is resolved, the waters off Portland, Los Angeles, Oakland and Washington state’s Puget Sound are likely to remain parking lots for dozens of ships awaiting space at the docks. Employers are locking out dockworkers, saying they have slowed work as a bargaining tactic. The union denies that.
Last week, West Coast legislators petitioned the president to step into the port labor dispute. In Oregon, the matter escalated from urgent to critical with the withdrawal of Hanjin Shipping Co. from the Port of Portland, where port congestion has reached a breaking point.
“It is time for the Pacific Maritime Association and the ILWU to recognize that the consequences of their actions reverberate far beyond their own personal concerns,” Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader said. “They need to immediately conclude their negotiations before they do any further harm to the economy.”
More than 40 percent of Oregon’s agriculture products are exported either overseas or across the country. As work at the West Coast ports slowed, farmers started eating the cost of produce and other products not making ships on time.
“In January alone, Oregon cherry growers lost over $250,000 of export sales directly related to port disruption; if not resolved, it will lead to a sales loss of $5 million in 2015,” Schrader said.
More than 350 Oregon agriculture companies sent a letter to Schrader and the rest of Oregon’s federal delegation to push for a conclusion to the negotiations.