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Jan.26, 2015

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10 THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE JANUARY 26.2015 COVER STORY WHATEVER PACT THE International Long- shore and Warehouse Union and Pacifi c Maritime Association had in place to not air in public the details about their con- tract negotiations went out the window last week. That the war of words erupted just days after federal mediation began leads to a sobering conclusion: The battle to secure a new longshore labor contract after eight months of talks has reached a new low, and both sides — and the supply chain interests suffering the consequences — now fi nd themselves in a war of attrition, with a lockout not out of the question. When the ILWU on Jan. 5 joined the PMA in requesting federal mediation, it was supposed to be the fi rst step toward con- cluding the controversial talks with what everyone from beneficial cargo owners, ocean carriers, trucking and rail operators, and West Coast ports and terminal interests hoped would be an agreement yielding six years of labor peace. Instead, the rancor is intensifying, start- ing with the PMA's charge that, despite the start of federal mediation, West Coast dockworkers were continuing their policy of work slowdowns and the withholding of skilled labor — actions that, it said, were bringing West Coast ports to the brink of "complete gridlock." In a blistering response, the ILWU said the PMA itself had conceded at the negoti- ating table that West Coast port congestion over the past several months resulted from operational issues such as a lack of space to handle the return of empty containers and export loads. The ILWU also accused the PMA of putting the economy at risk through ill-advised changes in work procedures in recent weeks and then blaming the union for the problems "in a self-serving attempt to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table." The exchange appeared to break the two sides' mutual pledge, which had largely held since negotiations began, not to discuss details of the actual negotiations. It also might signal a new level of contentiousness just as it appeared an agreement might be in sight. That hope came on Jan. 5, when the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service announced that the contract negotiations would be held under its auspices. The nego- tiations began last May, and the ILWU has been working without a contract since July 1. With negotiations at an impasse, the PMA on Dec. 22 requested federal mediation, and the ILWU did the same after the New Year holi- day. Contract negotiations on the West Coast involve coastwide issues such as wages and benefi ts, and issues that are particular to the individual port regions. Although the federal mediator can't dic- tate a solution to the impasse, experience has shown that mediators have helped the parties to reach a compromise in the vast majority of cases. So far, that hasn't been the case in the ILWU-PMA contract negotia- tions in San Francisco. The PMA has charged that beginning in late October, the ILWU initiated work slow- downs that contributed to existing congestion at the ports, an accusation the ILWU denies. But on Jan. 12, dockworkers in Portland, Ore- gon, walked off their jobs at noon, leaving two vessels at Terminal 6 without labor. The first week of federal mediation By Bill Mongelluzzo

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