No Federal Arbitrator In ILWU-PMA Negotiations For Now

No Federal Arbitrator In ILWU-PMA Negotiations For Now 80%99t-wade-ilwu-pma-contract-
Obama won’t wade into ILWU-PMA contract talks
Mark Szakonyi, Associate Managing Editor | Nov 19, 2014 9:34AM EST
WASHINGTON — Despite the pleas of major shippers, President Obama won’t send a federal mediator to help U.S. West Coast longshoremen and waterfront employers reach a labor contract.
The president’s decision to let the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association go it alone further reflects the rut the labor and congestion situation at West Coast ports has ground into. Cargo is moving, albeit at a much slower pace than usual, and ILWU work slowdowns aren’t severe enough to spur federal action.
“Just last year, there was a long negotiation at the East and Gulf Coast ports,” White House spokesman Frank Benenati told Bloomberg in an e-mail. “And just as the two sides in that case were able to resolve their differences through the time-tested process of collective bargaining, we’re confident that management and labor at the West Coast ports can do the same.”
But in the case of the East and Gulf Coast port contract, Obama did send a federal mediator to aid negotiations between the International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance in 2012. Obama’s decision then to send George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, came after the ILA threatened to strike if a bargaining standoff didn’t end.
The ILWU and the PMA, which represents U.S. West Coast waterfront employers, would both have to request a federal mediator to get the process going. Obama, however, could encourage the duo to use a mediator, as he did during East and Gulf Coast labor negotiations two years ago.
Unlike today’s situation in which the ILWU has rejected PMA calls for contract extensions, the ILA and USMX had agreed to several extensions during their negotiations. Without an extension of a contract, there is no grievance procedure in place to quickly arbitrate health and safety claims and work slowdowns.
The ILWU, which denies its members are causing slowdowns, has shown no signs of wanting to strike. The PMA says the union’s work slowdown tactics continue unchanged, but the employers do not indicate that they are ready to lockout the ILWU as they did during a contract impasse in 2002. President George W. Bush invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to end the 10-day lockout.
ILWU and PMA negotiators are meeting daily in the hopes of ending seven months of talks. The latest report of progress between both sides came at the end of summer, when the two parties jointly announced a tentative agreement on the important issue of health care benefits.
Still, the lack of a contract since July 1, which has exacerbated congestion at West Coast ports, particularly at Los Angeles and Long Beach, is testing the nerves of shippers. That’s spurred a full-court lobbying press on Congress, the Obama administration and the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission to do something to help resolve the problems the ports and shippers face.
“After months of hard negotiations, we strongly believe that the parties will benefit from using a federal mediator to help them reach a deal, just as the East Coast did,” Jon Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, told He added that the ILA and USMX were only able to reach a deal after a federal mediator got involved.
Contact Mark Szakonyi at and follow him on Twitter: @szakonyi_joc.