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NRF Asks Obama to use ‘All Means Necessary’ to End West Coast Port Strike

By J. Craig Shearman
Washington Retail Insight
November 29, 2012

NRF today asked President Obama to intervene in a strike that has closed the majority of terminals at the nation’s largest port complex just as final shipments of holiday season merchandise arrive on the docks.

“We call upon you to use all means necessary to get the two sides back to the negotiating table,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a letter sent to the White House this morning. “We cannot afford further supply chain disruptions.”

Members of the Office Clerical Workers Unit of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union walked off the job at Pier 400 at the Port of Los Angeles on Tuesday, and by Wednesday the strike had spread to 10 of the 14 terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Longshoremen refused to cross the picket lines, shutting down operations at the affected terminals.

Most holiday merchandise has already reached distribution centers if not stores, but some last-minute cargo is still arriving.

The 800 clerical employees, who actually work at offices away from the ports, claimed that employers are outsourcing their jobs to India and Taiwan. But the Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor Employers Association denied the charge and said all workers have been guaranteed full-time work for 52 weeks a year with a guarantee of no layoffs. The two sides have been negotiating a new contract for the past two years.

If the strike continues, Obama has authority under the Taft-Hartley Act to order the union back to work.

In his letter, Shay noted that a 10-day lockout at West Coast ports in 2002 led to supply chain disruptions that lingered for six months and cost the economy $1 billion for each day the ports were closed.

“An extended strike this time could have a greater impact considering the fragile state of the U.S. economy,” Shay said.

The West Coast strike comes two months after a strike at East Coast and Gulf Coast ports was narrowly avoided. Labor and management there came within days of a September 30 strike deadline before agreeing to continue talks through the end of the year.

© 2012 National Retail Federation

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