Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Negotiations will continue Friday to resolve a labor dispute crippling cargo activity at West Coast ports, including in Los Angeles and Long Beach, but if no deal is reached the parties will be summoned to Washington, D.C.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez has been taking part in the negotiations between the dockworkers’ union and port employers in San Francisco in hopes of resolving the dispute affecting operations at 29 West Coast ports.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia wrote on his Twitter page late Thursday that he was updated via telephone about the negotiations and said, “Either we have an agreement in the next 24 (hours) or the parties will be summoned to Washington.”

Earlier Thursday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told City News Service he was hopeful an agreement would be struck, noting that dockworkers at the Southland’s twin ports were working at “full steam, which is a good sign” that the relationship between the two sides may be improving.

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 was in San Francisco on Wednesday 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.

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 Wednesday to the 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 shortly, port spokesman Phillip Sanfield told CNS.

—City News

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