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West Coast Port Officials At Odds With Union Over Federal Mediation

On Monday, the union representing West Coast port workers insisted their ongoing labor dispute can be resolved with new people at the negotiating table– not the federal intervention that port officials have been urging for a week.

For the past seven months, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) have struggled to negotiate a new labor agreement for port workers. Now it would seem the two sides cannot even agree on how to move forwardm with the PMA requesting federal mediation and the ILWU wanting to speak to port owners directly.

Along with retail and economic uncertainty as a result of the dispute, in late October the PMA began accusing the ILWU of purposely promoting worker slowdowns at the ports. The ILWU has denied the allegations.

“Both sides need the right people in the room to get things finalized,” Robert McEllrath, the president and chairman of the Union’s Negotiating Committee, said in a statement.

“Sure, my counterpart, Jim McKenna, has been involved in negotiations from the start, but all the decisions are made by the carriers sitting on PMA’s Board of Directors” McEllrath noted. “Indirect negotiations won’t get us over the finish line. The few issues that remain unresolved relate directly to the carriers and these key carriers need to come to the table.”

“The irony of PMA’s slowdown allegation is that, in addition to dishonestly blaming workers for current congestion problems, it obscures the fact that PMA member companies are working behind the scenes to trigger labor disputes in order to cut labor costs and consolidate more control over workers on the docks” McEllrath concluded. “We’ve seen all this before. Our singular focus at this moment is getting a good contract for the members of the ILWU. I think we’re almost there.”

PMA responded by noting that there are still a significant amount of issues left to resolve and that the slowdowns are making the talks much more difficult.

“Given the lack of progress at the table, the ILWU’s continuation of debilitating work slowdowns and the impact those actions are having on businesses throughout America, it’s clear that mediation is required to resolve the many issues that remain at the bargaining table” the PMA told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Significant issues remain unresolved, including wages, pensions, jurisdiction and work rules,” their statement continued. “Further, the ILWU’s escalating rhetoric on congestion is nothing more than a smokescreen for its slowdown activities.”

The PMA notes that the only major issue they have reached tentative agreement on is the health care plan.

“The union’s decision, for example, to limit the number of yard crane operators in Southern California has exacerbated congestion issues in Los Angeles and Long Beach” the statement explained.  “In the Pacific Northwest, the ILWU slowdowns – which have reduced productivity by as much as 60 percent – created a meltdown that has backed up cargo for weeks.”

“Now the ILWU has stepped up slowdown activity at the Port of Oakland, reducing productivity to 50 percent of normal” the statement went on to say. “As a result of ILWU slowdowns, crops are rotting, products aren’t getting to customers, contracts are being canceled, local employees are getting furloughed and businesses are future diverting shipments away from the West Coast.

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