U.S. West Coast ports talks break for night without deal

Fri Feb 20, 2015 5:37am EST
 
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By Sarah McBride

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Shipping executives and union leaders for dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports ended a third straight day of contract talks late on Thursday without a settlement, despite arm-twisting from the U.S. labor secretary, but planned to meet again on Friday.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez joined the talks in San Francisco on Tuesday at the behest of President Barack Obama, who has come under growing political pressure to intervene in a dispute that has rippled through the trans-Pacific commercial supply chain and could cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing 20,000 dockworkers, has been locked in negotiations for nine months with the bargaining agent for shippers and terminal operators, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

Tensions arising from the talks have played out in worsening cargo congestion that has severely slowed freight traffic at ports that handle nearly half of all U.S. maritime trade and more than 70 percent of imports from Asia.

More recently, the shipping companies have curtailed operations sharply at the marine terminals, suspending the loading and unloading of cargo vessels for night shifts, holidays and weekends at the five busiest ports.

The disruptions have reverberated throughout the U.S. economy, extending to agriculture, manufacturing, retail and transportation.

Cargo loads that would normally take a few days to clear the ports have been facing lag times of up to two weeks or more as dozens of inbound freighters stack up along the coast, waiting for berths to open.

A longer-term concern has been that U.S. export business lost to other countries and ports may not return once the West Coast dockworker crisis ends.   Continued...

 
Cargo containers sit idle at the Port of Los Angeles as a back-log of over 30 container ships sit anchored outside the Port in Los Angeles, California, February 18, 2015.  REUTERS/Bob Riha, Jr.