Tuesday, November 25, 2014

PNW Ports Urge Federal ILWU, PMA Mediation

By Mark Edward Nero

The CEOs of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma on Nov. 21 sent a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to assign federal mediators to resolve contract negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The two sides have been in negotiations, on and off, since mid-May. The previous six-year deal between labor and employers expired July 1.

Pres. Obama previously said his administration would not step in to the middle of the negotiating process, but in their letter, the port CEOs asked him to think more about it.

“We appreciate your attention to the situation at West Coast ports and urge you to reconsider your decision not to assign federal mediators to help the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore & Warehouse Union resolve contract negotiations,” Port of Seattle CEO Ted Fick and Port of Tacoma CEO John Wolfe wrote. “We believe that mediation has become a critical and necessary tool because the parties have been unsuccessful in concluding discussions after seven months.”

The letter comes weeks after the PMA accused the ILWU of conducting a work slowdown at the Seattle and Tacoma ports, something the union has strongly denied.

The previous six-year labor pact between the PMA and ILWU, which covered almost 20,000 longshore workers at 29 ports up and down the West Coast, expired at 5 pm on July 1, but although no contract extension has been ratified, both sides have agreed to keep operating under the provisions of the recently expired contract for the time being.

In August, the two sides provided hope that a new contract might be imminent when they announced that they’d reached a tentative agreement on one aspect of their contract talks: health benefits. In a joint statement released Aug. 26, the two sides said that the agreement on health benefits is subject to agreement on the other issues in the negotiations.

Since then however, there has been no hint from either side that a deal on a full contract is imminent.