NEWPORT, R.I. — Retailers are stepping up their criticism of management and labor in the upcoming West Coast longshore negotiations, saying they should give shippers the predictability they are looking for by using the time between now and the June 30th contract expiration to get a deal done.
They are responding to comments at the JOC’s TPM conference in early March by Pacific Maritime Association President Jim McKenna, who said an early agreement on a new contract was very unlikely and further that there may actually be no agreement until a few weeks into July.
“Why leave yourself six weeks to negotiate a contract when you know you won’t be done by June 30th,” the expiration of the current six-year collective bargaining agreement between the PMA and International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation, at the CONECT Trade and Transportation Conference in Newport yesterday.
“To me, that makes no sense. The industry went through a horrendous experience on the East Coast last year, with a constant threat of a strike. Why put them through that again in 2014? Why give agita to the industry?” he said.
McKenna told TPM that the PMA and ILWU once tried beginning negotiations in March, but bargaining sessions were sporadic and nothing was accomplished during the first two months of negotiations. Both sides agreed that starting the talks in mid-May and working non-stop is a more productive game plan.
McKenna and other employer representatives in recent weeks said they expect negotiations to continue two or three weeks into July, and then a contract will be reached without a lockout or strike. However the possibility of slowdowns or a work stoppage, a presence to one degree or another in every ILWU contract negotiation since the mid-1990s, already has retailers engaged in contingency planning, given that any time-sensitive cargo will have to be well clear of the West Coast by June, when the negotiations will heat up and slowdowns are most likely to occur.
“Both the PMA and ILWU want to increase cargo flows through the West Coast, so why not give the industry the predictability they need? Why not settle early to keep that discretionary cargo there on the West Coast?,” he said. “If the West Coast ports can show they will provide that predictability, they will see more cargo; the more uncertainty, the more shippers will seek alternatives.”
He said the negotiations aren’t “an issue just impacting California, Oregon and Washington, it goes all the way to middle America,” which is why he said the NRF is trying to raise awareness in Washington about the economic consequences of a shutdown.
In past negotiations, the July 1 deadline often proved not to be a drop-dead deadline. Many longshoremen take vacation time and paid holidays on July 4 and the ILWU Bloody Thursday commemoration on July 5, so striking in the first week of July would rob them of that income.