Port Labor Contract Dispute Intensifies

On Feb. 4, Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) President and CEO James McKenna posted a video statement summarizing the details of PMA’s latest port labor contract offer to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). While McKenna states, “PMA has concluded that the latest offer is as far as we can go at this point,” he later told reporters that negotiations would continue.

In his statement and in subsequent news reports, McKenna discussed several details of the contract offer that had not been previously revealed, including specific wage and pension increases, the fact that it is a five-year proposal and that employers have agreed to pay 100 percent of the “Cadillac tax” on health care benefits that is set to take effect in 2018 under the Affordable Health Care Act.

Rumors of a possible coast-wide lockout had heightened earlier in the week. In his statement, McKenna did not offer a specific timeline for such an action but said the situation is already approaching total gridlock.

ILWU responded with a news release criticizing McKenna’s statement and saying, “Employers are deliberately worsening the existing congestion crisis to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table.”

Congressional hearings on the West Coast port situation are scheduled next week. Meat industry representatives are among those set to testify on the extremely negative impact port congestion is imposing on U.S. exports.

Earlier this week, 84 members of the House of Representatives issued a letter to PMA and ILWU urging them to resolve their differences.

“Our constituents are losing business, letting employees go and worrying about the future,” the letter stated. “As trade supports over 38 million jobs across the country, we strongly urge your organizations to reach an agreement, because the inability to reach consumers outside our borders impacts jobs here at home.”

The effort was led by Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon) and Dave Reichert (R-Washington). The full text of the letter is available online.

Editor’s note: Just before the Export Newsline went to press, PMA announced through a news release that cargo loading and unloading would be suspended this weekend at West Coast ports. Operations are scheduled to resume Monday, Feb. 9. USMEF will report more details as they become available.