While President Obama was in California’s Bay Area for a cyber-security summit in February, container ships across the bay from where Air Force One landed sat idle as union dockworkers continue to demand more pay and benefits.
A slight political breeze seems to be blowing over a recent work slowdown by the union that has imports and exports along the U.S. West Coast halted.
Why they refuse to work stems from disagreements between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) over future wages and benefits. The PMA represents West Coast ports and the union’s contract is up for negotiation.
Dock workers want more money and completely subsidized benefits that could cost employers around $300,000 per union worker per year in wages, benefits and other costs.
The two sides apparently began talking almost a year ago and as the holiday season approached the union was already slowing down its efforts to load and unload ships; so much so that perishable commodities shipped through West Coast ports were damaged.
While agricultural media outlets began to report on the issue around Christmas it was largely ignored by national mainstream media until February; as a result those in political leadership who could have put pressure on both sides to reach a quick agreement were publicly silent.
Now the impacts are real and they are catastrophic.
International shipping carrier Hanjin will reportedly close shop at the Port of Portland, Ore. because of the union slowdown.
In California, tree nuts marked for export have been heavily impacted as shipments slated to go before Christmas still sit on docks or have been recalled so they could be trucked to the Gulf Coast for shipment from those ports. Now those shipping lanes are heavily impacted.
California fresh citrus is also heavily impacted as estimates of 25 percent of export opportunities may be lost. California exports approximately $500 million in fresh citrus annually.
Jake Cecil, plant manager for Omega Walnut in Orland, Calif. told me of the heart-breaking decision he’s had to make to send workers home since he has no work for them.
Meanwhile, elected representatives I’ve spoken with say they sympathize with their agricultural constituents, but the cynic in me wonders if that will translate into real action to prevent American farmers from ever-again being held hostage by labor unions who control the shipping and receiving lanes at U.S. ports.
Barry Bedwell, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, says some would like to see federal legislation that makes it illegal for port unions to strike or take action that effectively cripples the U.S. economy and affects millions of jobs.
While labor unions in the United States may once have served a useful purpose, they now appear to be spoiled, selfish cartels capable of injuring the U.S. economy and national security.
Congress and the President must work together swiftly and decisively to prevent similar actions from happening again so that the flow of goods can continue unfettered through our sea ports.