West Coast ports talks resume for fourth day with labor secretary

Fri Feb 20, 2015 6:54pm EST
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By Ann Saphir

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The U.S. labor secretary kicked off a fourth straight day of intensifying talks with shipping executives and union leaders for dockworkers on Friday, aiming to settle a contract dispute that has led to months of disruptions at 29 West Coast ports.

U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez first 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 conflict that has rippled through the trans-Pacific commercial supply chain and could cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.

On Thursday, according to big-city mayors briefed by Perez, the labor secretary suggested the Obama administration intended to invite leaders from both sides to Washington next week to continue the talks if a deal were not clinched on Friday.

Bargaining, said to have bogged down earlier this week over the issue of binding arbitration, resumed on Friday after Perez met in the morning with the principals, then exited the talks, according to one source close to the situation. But the secretary promised to remain in touch, the source said.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has been locked in negotiations for nine months with the bargaining agent for shippers and terminal operators, the Pacific Maritime Association. The union's 20,000 members have been without a contract since July.

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

Work has been allowed to continue around the clock in the dockyards, rail yards and terminal gates for most of the harbors, and some smaller ports remained open to nighttime vessel operations as well.   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.