clear
Friday September 4th, 2015 3:51AM

Billions at risk as West Coast port contract ends

By The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The West Coast ports that are America's gateway for hundreds of billions of dollars of trade with Asia and beyond are no stranger to labor unrest and even violence.<br /> <br /> Now, the contract that covers nearly 20,000 dockworkers is set to expire, and businesses that trade in everything from apples to iPhones are worried about disruptions just as the crush of cargo for the back-to-school and holiday seasons begins.<br /> <br /> With contentious issues including benefits and job security on the table, smooth sailing is no guarantee.<br /> <br /> On one side is the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, with its tradition of fierce activism dating to the Great Depression, when two of its members were killed during a strike. On the other is the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines and operators of terminals at 29 West Coast ports.<br /> <br /> Both acknowledge that they are unlikely to agree on a new contract before the current one expires June 30, but they plan to negotiate past that deadline. That would fit the pattern from contract talks in 2008 and 2002. In 2002, negotiators didn't reach an agreement until around Thanksgiving, following an impasse that led to a 10-day lockout and a big disruption in trade.<br /> <br /> The union's total control over the labor pool means huge bargaining leverage, which negotiators have parlayed into white-collar wages and perks for blue-collar work. A full-time longshoreman earns about $130,000 a year, while foremen earn about $210,000, according to employer data. Workers pay nearly nothing for health coverage that includes no premiums and $1 prescriptions.<br /> <br /> Neither side has publicly discussed progress on negotiations that began May 12 in San Francisco, which is headquarters to the union and the maritime association.<br /> <br /> Twelve years ago, the shutdown had a lasting impact on how products moved in and out of the United States. Hulking cranes idled. Ships anchored in San Francisco Bay and outside ports from Los Angeles to Seattle. Economists estimated the impact at $1 billion each day.<br /> <br /> Even after trade resumed, retailers - with their just-in-time supply chain - worried that West Coast ports risked becoming a bottleneck. Companies looked to Gulf Coast and East Coast ports, which courted them by upgrading facilities.<br /> <br /> "They can't afford to have their goods hung up either out on the sea or on the docks," said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation.<br /> <br /> Between 2002 and last year, the portion of shipping containers that came into the U.S. through West Coast ports dropped from 50 percent to 44 percent, according to a study by Martin Associates, a firm that analyzes transportation systems. Imports to the Gulf of Mexico and the Northeast increased.<br /> <br /> Even so, West Coast ports handled cargo worth $892 billion in 2013 alone, according to trade data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.<br /> <br /> Worries over the current negotiations have prompted some stores to route shipments away from the West Coast, Gold said. Other importers planning for fall and winter shopping have shipped early to beat the contract's expiration date.<br /> <br /> The maritime association warns that labor peace is essential to keeping West Coast ports competitive, especially with an expansion of the Panama Canal that will allow larger vessels to reach East Coast markets directly.<br /> <br /> The union is not persuaded, at least not publicly.<br /> <br /> "The competitiveness argument is an old saw that gets trotted out every time there's a negotiation," said union spokesman Craig Merrilees. "The claim has generally been used in an effort to extract concessions from the union members."<br /> <br /> One area where the Pacific Maritime Association is looking for concessions is benefits. According to the PMA, the cost of benefits more than doubled over the past decade, reaching $93,200 per registered worker in fiscal year 2013.<br /> <br /> During these negotiations, a new incentive is in play: In 2018, a 40 percent tax on the value of "Cadillac" health plans above a certain threshold kicks in under the Affordable Care Act - and the union's coverage qualifies.<br /> <br /> Last July, workers and retirees picketed in Long Beach and in Tacoma, Washington, complaining that some families were shouldering tens of thousands of medical bills the health plan was not paying.<br /> <br /> Employers said legitimate claims were being paid, but they were scrutinizing tens of millions of dollars of treatments that were likely fraudulent, including phantom appointments and charges for cosmetic surgery.<br /> <br /> Other bargaining issues include what jobs will remain under union control, the introduction of technology that could make some jobs obsolete, and on-the-job safety measures.
© Copyright 2015 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 8 months ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 8 months ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 8 months ago )
U.S. News
State DOT awards $48M contract for NE Ga. road project
The state Department of Transportation has awarded a $47.8 million contract for nine miles of work on a northeast Georgia road.
9:37AM ( 8 months ago )
Business News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 8 months ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 8 months ago )
Maysville man dies from Banks County wreck
The Georgia State Patrol reports that alcohol and/or drugs were factors a single-vehicle wreck that claimed the life of a Maysville man in Banks County Tuesday night.
11:07AM ( 8 months ago )
Local/State News
Judge nixes 4-game 'Deflategate' suspension for Tom Brady; NFL quickly appeals to 2nd Circuit
NEW YORK (AP) — Tom Brady learned Thursday he will start the season on the field after a judge lifted the league's four-game suspension of the star quarterback for a scandal over deflated footballs, s...
9:19PM ( 6 hours ago )
Trump signs GOP pledge to back party's 2016 nominee, says he won't consider third-party bid
NEW YORK (AP) — Caving to intense Republican lobbying, presidential candidate Donald Trump ruled out the prospect of a third-party White House bid on Thursday and vowed to support whoever wins the par...
8:15PM ( 7 hours ago )
The Latest: Attorney for jailed clerk says decision unprecedented in American law
ASHLAND, Ky. (AP) — The latest on the county clerk in Kentucky who has refused to issue marriage licenses since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage (all times local):5:20 p.m.An attorney for a Ke...
6:03PM ( 9 hours ago )
College Board reports lower SAT scores, most test-takers missing college-ready benchmark
WASHINGTON (AP) — Student performance on the SAT college entrance exam is lagging, continuing a mostly downward trend over the last five years.The College Board says in a report that a record number o...
8:14AM ( 19 hours ago )
1 Marine killed, 9 others hurt in helicopter hard landing at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) — One Marine has been killed and 9 others were hurt when a helicopter made a hard landing at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter came down hard...
7:41AM ( 20 hours ago )