State businesses losing millions in ports labor dispute, Senators hear

By | January 14, 2015 | Comments

Snowshoes are a perishable item when it comes to sales, David Burroughs of Cascade Designs in Seattle told a joint Senate committee — and congestion linked to a labor dispute at West Coast ports is hurting the 40-year-old outdoor gear company.

“We lost orders to our mainly Chinese-manufactured competitors,” he said. “We have lost sales to date of $1.2 million.”

Because of the backlog of work at container ports, including the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Cascade Designs had issues with getting parts from its plant in Cork, Ireland to its plant in Seattle. The congestion also hurt the company’s ability to send its products to its overseas customers, Burroughs said.

“This type of thing creates reputational damage,” he said. “Our customers count on our products being there on time.”

Aerial photo of Port of Tacoma taken in 2012 by Aequalis Photography for the Washington State Department of Transportation

 

The congestion at 29 west coast ports, including ports in California and Oregon as well as Seattle and Tacoma, has been hurting businesses from all over Washington that rely on international trade, senators at a joint meeting of the Commerce and Labor and the Trade and Economic Development committees heard Wednesday morning.

The backup is occurring in the midst of protracted contract negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents the companies that manage work at the ports, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents the workers. The contract expired in June and the two sides are negotiating in San Francisco.

Negotiators brought in a federal mediator last week this month, according to the Journal of Commerce.

Dan McKisson, president of the Puget Sound District Council of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said that the Pacific Maritime Association cut the night shift, making it difficult for workers to clear cargo from the port and causing an increase in accidents.

“It’s a mess right now,” McKisson said. “When we were working full shifts, we could clear it.”

McKisson also said that having one shift during the day — when street traffic is at its worst — doesn’t help.

Labor leaders told KING 5 earlier this week longshoremen want the night shift to return.

However, the Pacific Maritime Association representatives told The News Tribune last month that the night shift was cut to accommodate an intentional slowdown of work by the longshoremen.

The association declined an invitation to appear at Wednesday morning’s hearing, according to Senate Commerce and Labor Committee chairman Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane).

Eric Schinfeld of the Washington Council on International Trade told the committees the contract dispute is the direct cause of the slowdown, which costs businesses that rely on trade to lose millions of dollars the short and long term.

“Because of that contract negotiation we are seeing slowdowns. Because of that in the last few months and into this year. We are seeing hundreds of millions of dollars of lost economic activity in our state,” he said. “Frankly, those are international customers who are saying, ‘If you’re not going to sell us your goods in Washington state, we are going to find people from other countries around the world to give us their goods instead.’ ”

Business interests who testified on Wednesday said the backup at the port is causing a ripple effect, with layoffs occurring on the growing, processing and shipping end.

Marc Spears, export sales manager of Chelan Fresh Marketing, which represents 400 growers, said that their exports through the ports were being cut in half.

Spears said that apple and pear growers are missing a big part of the Chinese New Year market in Asia, where the state’s apples have been a big draw in the months of December, January and February.

“Basically, these first three months, that’s demand that’s pulling us through these trying times,” he said. “Everyone has been counting on these times.”

 

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