Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Workers appeared to be working at full capacity at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach Thursday, a “good sign” that dockworkers and port employers are working toward resolving lingering labor issues holding up trade at West Coast ports, Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

Negotiations to resolve the labor contract dispute were continuing in San Francisco, with U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez helping to broker a deal between port employers and dockworkers. The dispute has slowed operations at 29 West Coast ports.

While both sides are said to be in agreement on major aspects of the contract — including health care and pay — there is still disagreement over an arbitrator who has a key role in determining how the future contract would be implemented and enforced.

Garcetti traveled to San Francisco to take part with Perez in meetings with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents port management, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the representative for dockworkers.

He told City News Service today that the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports are now running at “full steam, which is a good sign” that the relationship between the two sides may be improving and there won’t be a repeat of a worker lockout this weekend.

“Nobody is slowing down on either side,” said Garcetti, who was back in Los Angeles today and spoke at a downtown transportation summit.

The months-long labor talks have grown increasingly contentious in recent weeks, with the PMA issuing orders to halt the loading and unloading of ships at all West Coast ports during the past two weekends.

The employers contend workers have been conducting an illegal slowdown that has driven down productivity, and they did not want to pay weekend and holiday salary rates for work that is not being done. The ILWU has denied any slowdown.

The PMA has also accused the ILWU of attempting to dismiss an arbitrator who found the union guilty of the illegal work slowdowns, with the union seeking a provision that would allow just one party to remove an arbitrator.

Garcetti told CNS that the entire contract could be “wrapped up in a matter of hours if this last issue is overcome,” adding that “it’s crazy” a clash over the arbitrator is standing in the way.

“What is more important to me is setting up a arbitration system that both sides are secure about, and that’s what I tried to underscore” during the meetings Wednesday with PMA and the ILWU, the mayor said.

“Don’t tell me this rides on only one person,” he added.

California’s two U.S. senators sent a joint letter today to PMA and ILWU, urging them to reach an agreement to prevent damage to the economy.

“Every day that goes by without a resolution only adds to the economic pain for the West Coast and the entire country,” Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein wrote. “This cannot continue. The consequences of failing to resolve this dispute immediately would be devastating to our economy and to the millions of people who work hard every day for agricultural producers, manufacturers and other businesses, both large and small, in California and around the world.”

The fallout of the labor dispute was reflected in numbers released Wednesday by the Port of Long Beach that showed container volumes down in January by 18.8 percent compared with the same month last year.

A slump in the Port of Los Angeles cargo volume is also expected, with the numbers due out later this week, port spokesman Phillip Sanfield told CNS.

“The Port of L.A. is not only a local, but a national economic powerhouse, which is why I’m up here, to deal directly with both sides,” Garcetti said Wednesday. “We cannot wait any longer … we’re talking about 40 to 45 ships that can’t get into the docks — bring our shops what they need, get our workers on the docks.”

He warned that with port customers contracting with competing Gulf Coast and East Coast ports, “trade may never come back if we don’t resolve” the labor dispute.

—City News Service

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