Lawmakers step up pressure to end port slowdown

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2015 - A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to put the House on record urging President Obama to step in and end a labor dispute snarling West Coast ports if there isn't an agreement soon.

"This is one of the gravest threats to our nation right now," said four House members who have drafted a bipartisan resolution. "We are seeing businesses, farmers,and manufacturers affected all across the country. The slowdown is not just a West Coast problem, but a national problem.”

Lets Talk Food The resolution, proposed by Washington Republicans Dave Reichert and Dan Newhouse, and Democrats Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Jim Costa of California, says that if the ports are closed the president “should use all tools at his disposal to end  the dispute,” including his powers under the Taft-Hartley Act.

The slowdown has reduced agriculture exports by $1.75 billion per month, or more than $440 million per week, the resolution's co-sponsors say in a letter to House colleagues urging them to sign onto the measure. “This is without consideration of the additional costs for warehousing, transportation, and other costs.”

Because of the congestion at the ports, the port operators announced Wednesday that they would stop loading and unloading at 29 ports for four out of five days.

The slowdown has been especially hard on produce growers, and some have stopped exporting their commodities, according to the Western Growers Association.

“Non-perishable exports, although delayed, will survive, but for perishable agricultural commodities the losses will only continue to escalate,” said Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif. “We strongly urge President Obama to become personally and immediately engaged to get both sides to end this dispute and quickly restore operations at our ports."

The dispute has had reverberations far beyond the West Coast.Texas farmers, for example, are shipping Pacific-bound cotton through Houston, at higher cost, rather than via West Coast ports.

Last week, more than 80 members of Congress led by Reichert and Schrader sent a letter to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, urging them to reach a settlement. PMA represents the terminal operators, cargo carriers and stevedores.

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