It’s easy to picture it in your mind – a bunch of shipping industry representatives are knocking on the door of the White House and the president looks out the window knowing what they want but is shielding himself from their view behind a curtain.
At least that’s what it must have seemed like to American shippers who had become increasingly concerned about the labor strike in 10 of the 14 terminals in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which lasted through late Tuesday. These are the nation’s two biggest inbound container ports, respectively, and many supply chains depend on their efficiency.
Earlier that day, nearly 100 trade groups sent a letter to the president asking his administration to intervene in the strike, specifically getting the union workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s Local 63 Office Clerical Unit back to the job of processing freight documents while the union local’s leadership and employers, represented by the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association, conclude a new contract.
The strike, which entered its second week on Tuesday, has already cost the U.S. economy hundreds of millions of dollars in stalled shipments and necessary logistics changes by the nation’s shippers to keep their cargo flowing.
Granted, the president is immersed in difficult negotiations with Congress to come up with a tax plan that avoids the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” at the end of the month, threatening to hurl the county back into recession, as well as keeping an eye on dangerous events taking place in the Middle East.
However, many shippers are disturbed that the administration, if not the president himself, failed to issue even a statement about the importance of ending this strike in the Southern California ports. Sending in a representative from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to bring the parties back to the negotiations table this week was perhaps a help, but is generally viewed as a weak government response to what was happening in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. In fact, the union and employers appeared to have reached a contract resolution on their own.
The FMCS’ use for the ongoing master contract negotiations between the International Longshoremen’s Association and U.S. Maritime Alliance on the East and Gulf ports doesn’t exert much sway. In fact, the FMCS told the union and employers to maintain an information gag while they talked. This was shortly ignored as both parties hurled insults at each other. This master contract, extended on Sept. 30, expires at the end of December. The two sides meet again on Dec. 10.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, of all the politicians – both local and in Washington – deserves most of the credit for staying on top of the L.A./Long Beach strike and doing his utmost to encourage a prompt resolution to get the ports' terminals back to work.
It’s time for the president to show similar leadership and boldly act on the industry concerns such as these, even at the expense of alienating some of his labor constituents, and stop hiding behind the curtain. - Chris Gillis