NRF asks union, employers to reinstate contract through November so arbitration provisions are in place.
The National Retail Federation said Thursday the failure of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association to reach a contract agreement “is now having a significant impact on port operations and contributing to port congestion in significant and damaging ways.”
The ILWU contract with employers expired on July 1 and the talks, which began on May 12, have continued longer than many had expected. The group is asking for an extension of the original contract through November “in order to reinstate arbitration agreements, which are preventing many issues at the ports from being addressed.”
Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president of supply chain and customs policy, said, “We’re hearing about issues with chassis maintenance as well as skilled labor not taking jobs, so there’s a high level of positions unfilled or filled by unskilled/casual labor, which is resulting in shortages.”
According to the letter, which was signed by Matt Shay, president and chief executive officer of the the NRF, “Retailers are now in the midst of their heaviest shipping season of the year preparing for the upcoming holidays, which are a ‘make it or break it’ time for retailers and merchants. While we recognize that there are many reasons for the current port congestion, there is no doubt that the lack of a new labor contract between PMA and the ILWU is having a big impact on port productivity, particularly in Southern California.”
He added that “retailers began instituting costly contingency plans in early 2014 to ensure that merchandise would reach stores in time for the critical holiday shopping season. The current congestion at West Coast ports has eviscerated those preparations, in many cases, which may cause critical merchandise to miss target on-sale dates.”
Shay called the contract “a critical component” to help the industry clear a growing backlog of containers at ports throughout the region.”
“We are deeply troubled by the fact that no apparent progress has been made in the negotiations since August, when the PMA and ILWU announced a ‘tentative deal’ on health benefits. Whether intentional or not, the fact that neither the PMA nor ILWU has made any public progress report in more than a month is sending a very troublesome and disconcerting signal,” he wrote.
Craig Merilees, am ILWU spokesman, said, “Another wag of finger and admonishment from the NRF is hardly news,” calling the group “anti-union and anti-worker.” He added that the union would continue to work toward negotiating a new contract with the PMA.
NRF did “commend the PMA and the ILWU for staying at the table and continuing to negotiate a new agreement.”
The PMA and ILWU have not given any indication as to what is preventing them from coming to terms on a new labor agreement; the negotiations have been held under a media blackout, but with none of the public acrimony that sometimes surround labor talks.
With the tentative agreement on health care issues, sources tell American Shipper that technology has become a major issue in the talks. Merilees said technology was addressed in the previous contract, and that the ILWU has never taken a position against new technology, but instead has focused on new jobs and training. He said there may be interest in further discussions as technology advances, but he said “the general framework was largely resolved” in the contract worked out six years ago.