WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2015 – A labor dispute that has led to congestion at dozens of West Coast ports will receive federal mediation assistance after a joint request from both workers and employers.

In a call with reporters, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed concern that the dispute could have an impact on the entire country. He said his constituents have informed him that one rail company has stopped accepting container shipments “as a result of the backlog of containers at the ports.”

Grassley said he sent a letter to the White House expressing his concern on the issue. He said he’s heard from industry sources that West Coast ports have been operating at about 50 percent capacity in recent weeks, and the new Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said that simply is unacceptable in today’s business climate.

“A modern global economy – and this would include both agriculture and other businesses – can’t afford this work slowdown,” Grassley said Wednesday on a call with reporters. “My letter makes clear that the labor issues at these ports is directly affecting agriculture and businesses in Iowa and across the country.”

Grassley added that if Congress can finalize a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- a free trade pact among Pacific Rim nations -- the volume of goods going through West Coast ports will increase, “but no trade agreement will work if the ports aren’t operating at a capacity to handle the current demands of the global economy.”

Contract talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) have been going on for about eight months. Both sides have accused the other of causing the backlogs currently being experienced at ports ranging from Seattle to Los Angeles. In a statement, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the agency charged with providing the mediation assistance, said Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh has been assigned to the talks.

The agency went on to say that collective bargaining between ILWU and PMA will continue “as soon as possible” under FMCS auspices and that the agency is “prepared and ready to render prompt assistance.”

West Coast ports have long played a vital role in U.S. exports. According to a report by the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers, cargo moving through West Coast ports “represents an economic value of 12.5 percent of U.S. GDP (gross domestic product).”


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