Feds Offer Help In Dock Contract Standoff

Federal Government Intervenes in Dock Contract Standoff

Mediators from the federal government are poised to intervene in the long-standing contract dispute that has lingered between West Coast shippers and longshoremen for five months. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) said in a statement that it stands “ready to provide services at a moment’s notice.”

The statement comes after the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents shipping companies, formally asked for federal mediation before Christmas. However, before the FMCS can step in, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) – which represents 20,000 dockworkers at West Coast ports – would have to agree to the intervention.

“We remain far apart on many issues,” said Wade Gates, a PMA spokesman. “At the same time, the union continues its slowdowns, walk-offs and other actions that are having impacts on shippers, truck drivers and other local workers – with no end in sight. It is clear that the parties need outside assistance to bridge the substantial gap between us.”

Longshoremen at 29 West Coast ports have been working without a contract since July 1. Publically, negotiations have been mostly civil, although recent frustration over the lack of a deal has caused tension in busy ports like Long Beach and Los Angeles. The PMA has accused the ILWU of creating slowdowns at major ports, tying up shipping traffic. “The port congestion crisis is a long-term problem that pre-dated allegations of a slowdown – and will unfortunately continue after a settlement is reached,” said Craig Merrilees, the communications director for the ILWU.

The recent slowdowns reportedly have some importers thinking about sending cargo to other unaffected U.S. ports. So far, retailers including Ann Taylor, the Loft, Lane Bryant and Justice have acknowledged shipment delays involving their products. In another high-profile case last month, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors were forced to hand out vouchers to 10,000 fans after bobblehead figures didn’t arrive at port in time for a promotional giveaway.