Ports’ slowdown continues

The heads of California’s two largest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, joined the chorus of business people, port executives and farmers this week asking President Barrack Obama to appoint a federal mediator to help shippers and longshore union members reach a new labor agreement.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines and terminal operators on the West Coast, has been negotiating with the International Longshore Workers Union since May trying to reach a new contract deal.

Port productivity has declined dramatically since Oct. 31 after the two sides concluded a largely unproductive bargaining session. The PMA says longshore workers are deliberately slowing work. The union claims the slowdown is a result of a long-building knot of problems ranging from larger ships to chassis shortages and terminal mismanagement.

That slowdown continued Monday in Tacoma and Seattle and other West Coast ports.

The net result has been that both imports and exports through ports such as Tacoma and Seattle have slowed seriously causing problems for merchants selling imported goods during the holiday and for exporters such as apple growers and potato processors trying to supply overseas markets with perishable goods.

Both sides reportedly negotiated over the weekend hoping to reach some sort of tentative agreement before the ILWU holds a caucus in San Francisco on Dec. 15.

In ordinary circumstances, a federal mediator isn’t called into the negotiations unless both sides agree to ask for help.