Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Retail Federation Urges Early Maritime Contract Negotiations

By Mark Edward Nero

The National Retail Federation, concerned about the potential of a strike or lockout resulting from upcoming contract negotiations between maritime industry management and union labor, is urging the two sides to come to a quick agreement.

On April 14, NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said expedited negotiations would strengthen the supply chain and provide shippers and retailers the certainty they need to utilize the West Coast ports during the holiday shipping period, which begins in July.

In a letter to Pacific Maritime Association Chairman and CEO James McKenna and International Longshore & Warehouse Union President Robert McEllrath written on the behalf of the millions of businesses the NRF represents, Shay urged the two to begin contract negotiations far ahead of the June 30 expiration date of the current six-year contract. Talks are currently scheduled to begin in mid-May.

“A failure to reach agreement could seriously harm the US economy, especially if it results in supply chain disruptions,” Shay wrote. “Both parties should attempt to reach a contract well before expiration for the benefit of the national economy and to provide the needed certainty to all of the stakeholders in the supply chain who rely on the US West Coast ports.”

Shay also called for the ILWU and PMA to issue a joint statement committing to begin negotiations soon and promising to continue negotiating and working “without interruption or reduced productivity,” even if negotiations continue past the current contract’s June 30 expiration.

The NRF’s letter was spurred by a history of contentious talks between the two sides. Both the 2008 and 2002 talks weren’t resolved until after the contracts’ expirations, and in 2002, the PMA launched an employer lockout that shut down the West Coast ports for 10 days and resulted in an estimated $1 billion loss per day to the industry.