New talks Tuesday will try to resolve West Coast port terminals dispute

Dec 2, 2014, 6:04 AM | Updated: 6:04 am

When "the big one" hits, people in and around Seattle should be safe from a tsunami, a FEMA officia...

When "the big one" hits, people in and around Seattle should be safe from a tsunami, a FEMA official told KIRO Radio's Dave Ross. (AP)


After weeks of lost productivity, backlogs and finger-pointing, contract talks resume Tuesday between west coast terminal operators and union Longshore members in Seattle and elsewhere, who are working without a contract.

For the last few weeks, we’ve been hearing about a backlog of shipping containers on the docks filled with clothing, apples, Christmas trees and other export products. Productivity at the Port of Seattle and other port terminals remains down from normal, according to most observers.

Shippers have blamed the union for work slowdowns and other disruptions. The union calls the problem a “congestion crisis” and blames other factors, including a shortage of trailer chassis, larger ships that overwhelm the docks and crowded rail lines due to the fracking craze.

“It’s a much more complex and difficult problem than just scapegoating workers,” said Craig Merrilees, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in San Francisco.

Lately, both sides have dialed down the rhetoric. Wade Gates, with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), representing terminal operators, said now, the focus is on new contract talks, on hold for about 12 days.

“That gives us a chance to get back to the table, to get talking about what we call the big table issues and I think that’s what people are focused on right now.”

There’s a measure of optimism, perhaps for the first time since the ILWU contract with the terminal operators expired July 1.

“Talks have continued to be positive and progress has been made on real key issues,” said Merrilees.

“Everyone is focused on getting back to the negotiations,” said Gates.

A new, face-to-face bargaining session gets underway Tuesday morning in San Francisco.

Traffic through West Coast ports represents about 12.5 percent of the national gross domestic product, according to the PMA.

The union represents dockworkers at 29 west coast ports and puts the total economic value of cargo moving through those ports at more than $2 trillion.

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