ILWU CANCELS TALKS, COALITION CALLS FOR BUSH TO INTERVENE
The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents U.S. West Coast port employers, on Wednesday, renewed its calls for mediation as the International Longshore & Warehouse Union called off talks on a new waterfront contract.
As the PMA's lockout held ports idle for a sixth day, the West Coast Waterfront Coalition of shippers, port operators and intermodal transport providers called for President Bush to intervene to reopen the ports.
In a letter to Bush Tuesday, the West Coast Waterfront Coalition urged the president to intervene to reopen the ports.
“We implore you to take whatever steps are necessary to reopen the nation’s West Coast ports,” said Robin W. Lanier, executive director of the coalition, The coalition represents major shippers such as Nike, Gap Inc., Mattel, The Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Chiquita Brands International and Del Monte Foods.
Already contentious talks between the PMA and ILWU took a turn for the worse Tuesday, when during a meeting with Federal Mediation and Reconciliation Service director Peter J. Hurtgen, union representatives walked out, claiming the PMA has brought 'hired thugs' — armed security guards — to the meeting, said Steve Stallone, the union spokesperson.
Hurtgen, in a letter distributed by the ILWU, called the presence of security personnel 'inappropriate and a breach of bargaining protocol particularly when the meeting is under the auspices of the FMCS.'
The PMA, while saying they had 'good reason' to employ the security detail, claimed the ILWU's actions call for mediation.
'Here is where PMA stands right now. We will accept federal mediation. We will accept California Governor (Gray) Davis' offer of state mediation. We will accept Los Angeles Mayor Hahn's offer to facilitate the discussion,' the PMA said Wednesday.
The employers are calling for the union to sign a contract extensions extending the pact that expired June 30. Both sides had extended the contract throughout July and August while negotiations continued, but the PMA claimed the union has not signed since Sept. 2 and has, instead, engaged in work slowdowns that led to the PMA's lockout last Friday. The PMA lifted the lockout briefly Sunday but reinstated it, claiming that the union had renewed its slowdown tactics.
The employers say that work slowdowns are illegal under the contract and claim that is why the union won't sign.
'We will open the ports if the union extends the contract they worked under for the past three years,' the PMA said. 'Take one simple action: sign the contract extension.'
The West Coast Waterfront Coalition said in its letter to Bush that, while it favors mediation, it also believes that “some action must be taken before the economy suffers further damage.”
Bush has also received pleas to intervene from the International Mass Retail Association and the U.S. Farm Bureau.
If President Bush decides to intervene in the dispute, he has the power to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act, which would force the two sides back to work for an 80-day cooling-off period.
However, Labor Department representatives have said such a move is premature and that they will wait for the two sides, possibly through mediation, to work it out.
Meanwhile, the shutdown of the ports is costing the U.S. economy $1 billion a day, port employers claim.
The West Coast coalition said the economic impact of the shutdown of the ports is mounting.
“This impact includes the loss of perishable exports, the inability to secure transportation for manufactured and agricultural exports, the loss of drayage work at the ports, the depletion of just-in-time manufacturing inventories and the imminent prospect of idling assembly lines,” the coalition said in its letter.
The coalition warned that a continued port closure would have “a devastating effect” on the retail sector by threatening the availability of finished consumer products for the holiday sales period.
The coalition of shippers and terminal operators is also concerned that, for each day that the port is closed, it will take a week or more to unsnarl the backlog of work.
“Even if the situation were resolved today, it would take more than a month before the global supply chain would be back in order,” the coalition said.
The coalition said the current impact of the lockout includes the following disruptions:
* Short haul trucking companies at the harbors have effectively been shut down. Their employees and independent owner-operator truckers have no work to perform.
* U.S. rail operations supporting Asian trade are shutting down. No trains are being built at the harbor for inbound commerce and major railroads have announced that they will no longer accept containers with export cargo headed for West Coast ports.
* U.S. exporters are unable to send products to customers overseas and export product is backing up in grain elevators and in warehouses. Exporters of perishables, including produce and other agricultural products critical to the California economy, are being severely impacted “as their cargo rots at the ports.”
* U.S. manufacturers with just-in-time supply chains face “imminent suspension of manufacturing operations” as inventories of parts are exhausted. Air-freight alternatives are in limited supply and very expensive in the current climate. Even manufacturers who have implemented expensive contingency plans for critical parts will run those supplies down in two weeks time.
CNN reported Wednesday that the New United Motor Manufacturing, a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors Corp., was forced to close its plant in Fremont, Calif.
* U.S. retailers are entering the critical fourth quarter, during which they experience nearly 40 percent of all annual sales. The shutdown occurs at the height of peak holiday delivery season and may mean that important seasonal merchandise will not reach stores on time resulting in significant lost sales for retailers.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said the lockout is impacting more than the nation's economy.
'As secretary of the U.S. Coast Guard, I am concerned about the potential security hazards of having so many ships at anchor in our nation's critical harbor,' Mineta said at the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Executive Committee meeting in Washington Tuesday. He also noted disruption of critical supplies to Hawaii, the Pacific Island territories and affiliated commonwealths.
Mineta did note that both the PMA and ILWU continue to work military cargoes during the lockout.
The PMA and ILWU began negotiations on a new contract May 13. Technology, which employers have argued is the key issue since before the last contract was approved in 1999, continues to be the key stumbling block in negotiations. The PMA said Tuesday the union has effectively taken technology 'off the table.'
The PMA said it has guaranteed job protection for every registered worker who may be impacted by technology, a point that the ILWU disputes.
The association said the offer it has placed on the table 'would make the members of the ILWU among the highest-paid workers in America.'
According to the PMA, the offer would raise the average salaries for longshoremen and marine clerks to $114,500 and $137,500, respectively.