By David Shepardson and Lisa Baertlein
WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -West Coast port employers and the union representing 22,000 workers have “overcome some sticking points” in tense labor talks that have entered their 13th month, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday.
Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su is in San Francisco, where negotiations have been taking place, “meeting with all parties encouraging them to reach a resolution,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that Su “has invaluable expertise working closely with these parties.”
Business groups are pressuring U.S. President Joe Biden to intervene and appoint an independent mediator to finalize a contract since West Coast ports are critical to U.S. supply chains.
International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) dockworkers at ports from California to Washington state have been working without a contract since July 2022. Unions are pressing for a bigger share of record profits reaped when cargo shipments surged during the pandemic.
Contract talks hit a bump on June 1. Since then, the Pacific Maritime Association employers group has criticized the union for worker absences, which PMA said were deliberately slowing West Coast ports.
The PMA specifically called out worker shortages in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland and Seattle this month. A handful of ships had delays at berth at the busiest U.S. container gateway at Los Angeles/Long Beach due to a lack of “lashers” who secure and unlock containers onboard vessels.
The unions are not officially striking or slowing work during talks, but one LA union local recently said its members “had taken it upon themselves to voice their displeasure” after feeling snubbed by employers.
“This is what (an) impasse in bargaining looks like. Both sides are probably disappointed, upset, frustrated,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka.
Still, he added, “We’ve only had a handful of bad days.”
On Saturday ILWU President Willie Adams reiterated the union’s intention of reaching an agreement.
If talks fall apart, mediation fails and port operations cease, Biden can invoke federal labor law to force resumption of normal port operations. The last president to do that was George W. Bush, who invoked that federal law in 2002.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington DC and Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman)