U.S. labor secretary to hold more talks in West Coast ports dispute

Wed Feb 18, 2015 12:42pm EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES Feb 18 (Reuters) - U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez planned to hold a second round of talks with shipping company executives and union leaders for 20,000 dockworkers on Wednesday, seeking to broker a deal to end months of labor turmoil clogging cargo traffic at 29 West Coast ports.

Perez was sent to San Francisco as an emissary of President Barack Obama, who has come under mounting pressure to intervene in a conflict that has reverberated through the trans-Pacific commercial supply chain and, by some estimates, could cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.

Steadily worsening cargo congestion that the union and shippers blame on each other has slowed freight traffic since October at the ports, which handle nearly half of all U.S. maritime trade and more than 70 percent of the nation's imports from Asia.

More recently, the shipping companies have sharply curtailed operations at the terminals, limiting the loading and unloading of cargo vessels to daytime shifts at the five busiest ports and to non-holiday weekdays only throughout the system.

Daytime work has continued in the dockyards, rail yards and terminal gates. Some smaller ports remained open to nighttime vessel operations as well.

The union and shipping companies each accuse the other side of instigating the disruptions to gain leverage in contract negotiations that have dragged on for nine months, appearing to hit a roadblock in the last two weeks.

The bargaining agent for the shippers and terminal operators, the Pacific Maritime Association, has said talks hit a snag over a union demand for changes in the system of binding arbitration of contract disputes.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has insisted the two sides are near an accord.   Continued...