Mark Szakonyi, Associate Managing Editor | Nov 12, 2014 3:36PM EST WASHINGTON
After weeks of remaining relatively quiet on U.S. West Coast labor tensions, Congress is raising its voice on the need for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and waterfront employers to forge a new labor contract.
Six senators from California, Washington and Oregon today sent a letter to the heads of the ILWU and Pacific Maritime Association, which represents waterfront employers, urging both sides to “continue negotiating in good faith to resolve remaining issues” and reach a deal. The push from D.C. comes as tensions between the parties show increased signs of fraying.ILWU workers at the Port of Oakland Monday walked off their jobs for three consecutives shifts. The PMA last week accused the ILWU of intentionally filling only half the needed positions for skilled equipment operators at the congested Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex. Waterfront employers also say ILWU has reduced productivity at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.The ILWU has rejected PMA claims that it is responsible for LA-LB congestion. The shortage and disclocation of chassis, rail delays, record imports and other factors have contributed to the congestion at the largest container gateway in the Americas, the ILWU said in a statement. A U.S. West Coast labor contract “is imperative to the health of the West Coast economy and to the nation’s as a whole,” the senators wrote to ILWU President Robert McEllrath and PMA President and CEO James McKenna. “This collective bargaining agreement is important for the health, safety and economic well-being of the 13,600 longshore, clerk and foreman workers at 29 ports from California to Washington, as well as for companies large and small, agriculture producers, ports and international buyers around the world.”The letter from the senators Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both of California; Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, of Washington; and Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, of Oregon comes after six House California representatives Oct. 25 urged the ILWU and PMA to reach a deal. Interestingly, neither of the groups of legislators has publicly joined retailers, manufacturers and other transportation providers in asking President Obama to send a federal labor mediator to help both sides reach a deal. The White House has not responded to the request from the more than 100 group-strong coalition