PNW port dispute calls for national attention

Stakeholders urge President to get involved after soured negotiations.

The impact of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) negotiations are becoming increasingly dire for U.S. agriculture and forest products exporters, prompting groups to ask for President Obama’s attention to the matter, according to the Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC). (Feedstuffs, Nov. 17)

As each day passes, U.S. producers continue to experience financial losses associated with the situation. “Christmas trees that are not exported will miss the holiday season in Asia completely,” relayed AgTC, adding that foreign customers have been canceling orders and turning to other countries to satisfy their needs. “Potatoes that are not exported will likely be a painful loss for the farmers whose entire year is dependent upon current shipments. The same for apples and other U.S. exports.” 

AgTC said the railroads have been unable to bring agriculture products from the Midwest to Pacific Northwest ports because of the labor slowdown at the ports. “At the same time, the ocean carriers are passing on their increased cost by imposing draconian congestion surcharge fees on the U.S. exporter, who cannot pass them on to the customer,” the group added. “It is rendering our agriculture and forest products non-competitive in the global marketplace. It is destroying the President's National Export Initiative. It could take years for our agriculture to recover lost foreign markets.” 

Realizing the urgency of the issue, 61 national and regional agriculture and transportation stakeholders recently sent a letter to the President as well as to the Senate and House of Representatives urging them to reach out to the ILWU and PMA to insist that they immediately restore the ports to full operation while they continue negotiations. Additionally, they asked Obama to use “whatever means you have at your disposal, including bringing in a federal mediator to help resolve the contract negotiations.”

“Agriculture products have a limited shelf-life,” stated the letter. “If shipments are delayed at the ports, the exporter risks losing the value of his entire shipment. And if products cannot be delivered on time to the foreign customer, the customer will source from other countries such as Brazil, Australia, Chile, or Argentina.”

Should a strike or lockout occur, the stakeholders encouraged Obama to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act—a federal law that can restrict the activities and power of labor unions—in order to keep exports moving and protect the U.S. economy.

“Our largest export sector, agriculture and forest products, and your own National Export Initiative will depend upon your prompt action.” 

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