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Jan.26, 2015

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GOVERNMENT WATCH INTERNATIONAL | WASHINGTON | CUSTOMS | SECURITY | REGULATION THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE 15 By Mark Szakonyi THE REACHING OF a labor contract between the International Longshore and Ware- hou s e Un ion a nd t hei r We s t Coa s t employers is essential to the U.S. economy, Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., told her col- leagues this month. For shippers and transportation provid- ers frustrated with long delays caused by alleged ILWU slowdowns at U.S. West Coast ports, Hahn's comments on the House floor were hardly surprising. For many on Capitol Hill, however, West Coast port congestion is barely a blip on the radar, reflecting not only Congress's limited ability to assist in the talks, but also how low a priority the issue ranks for the majority of legislators. "You certainly have shipper groups such as the (National Retail Federation) banging the drum, but that is still pretty low-level," a veteran District of Columbia executive involved in the maritime industry said. "No one is coming into this new Congress think- ing, 'I have to deal with this.' " The dearth of public pressure on the fed- eral government to get both sides to iron out a contract also has helped keep the Obama administration on the sidelines. Granted, neither Congress nor the president could have called in federal mediators to aid nego- tiations, because the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service only joins the table at the invitation of both parties. The ILWU did that early this month, following an identical request from the PMA in late December. Still, the limited attention the con- tentious negotiations and broader port congestion have received within the Belt- way underscores the disconnect between the freight industry and Washington. Legis- lators also are staying out of the fray because it's unclear what the obstacles are to reach- ing a deal, the maritime executive said. "You can't expect D.C. to get in the mid- dle of it when no one has articulated why there is no agreement," he said. And with the ILWU denying it's engag- ing in slowdown tactics and there being plenty of other factors contributing to port congestion — including rapidly growing vol- umes and chassis dislocation — few, if any, legislators want to risk taking sides. West Coast legislators, the majority of whom are Democrats with close ties to unions, don't want to risk angering their more liberal base at the expense of scoring points with busi- ness interests, or vice versa, Jock O'Connell, a California-based international trade econ- omist, told The Journal of Commerce. It's a delicate balance for legislators. At an ILWU rally in Southern California, Hahn sympathized with workers' lack of a CONGRESS STAYS OUT OF THE ILWU FRAY Despite mounting frustration with freight delays, the controversial talks are a low priority on Capitol Hill

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