Obama Administration Steps Up Pressure On West Coast Ports

West Coast port operators and the longshoremen and warehouse workers’ union are getting increased pressure to resolve their contract dispute from the Obama Administration.

Late Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker arrived in California, joining U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, to help push negotiations along.

The two cabinet officials have met with state and city officials along the West Coast, as well as the union and port operators in an effort to get past the now nine-month stalemate.

The West Coast Maritime Association represents the 29 shipping ports running from Seattle to Los Angeles. The International Longshore & Warehouse Union, which represents 20,000 dockworkers, has been without a contract since last summer. The trade group says union members have participated in a work slowdown; the union has denied that allegation.

Earlier in the week, Labor Secretary Perez headed to California after the weekend-holiday shutdown of the ports. He has since spoken with state officials, including Washington Governor Jay Inslee, California Governor Jerry Brown and several mayors of the affected port cities, including Oakland and Long Beach, Calif., and Los Angeles to discuss the economic implications of the closures.

The shoe industry stands to lose big the longer the dispute goes on.

Delayed shipments have hurt brands from Skechers USA Inc. to Michael Kors Group to Steve Madden Ltd. to Titan Industries, which have watched the port backlog delay deliveries of crucial spring merchandise.

While many businesses have been forced to use other ports or pay more to air-lift goods, the growing pressure on margins and profitability won’t go away overnight even after the two parties come to an agreement. Experts say that at best, it will take four to six months longer to clear out the backlog.

“It becomes more dire by the day, in all honesty,” said Matt Priest, president of the Footwear Distributors & Retailers Association, in an earlier interview. “Almost 100 percent of the shoes sold in the U.S. are imported. To bring in product efficiently and effectively is something that sustains so many jobs in our industry. When you take away the efficiency of a key tool we use to get product to our consumers, it’s very challenging.”


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