A bipartisan group of House members on Thursday called for a "swift resolution" of the labor dispute at West Coast ports, warning that the cargo buildup and partial shutdowns were hurting businesses and posed a major risk to the U.S. economy.
"We believe this is the greatest threat our nation faces right now," said Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), who said businesses in his district have laid off workers because goods are not moving through the ports.
He and 15 House colleagues, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), held a news conference highlighting the damage the dispute is causing in their districts.
They called on both sides to quickly end their nine-month negotiations and reach a contract agreement. If they can't, President Obama should intervene to get the ports fully functioning, the lawmakers said.
"Nobody wins by the current situation," said McCarthy, who noted that farmers in his Central Valley district were losing millions of dollars daily because agricultural goods were rotting as they waited to be shipped.
"This is something that cannot continue," he said.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, along with other West Coast ports, will be partially shut down through Monday because shipping companies and terminal operators don't want to pay overtime to workers who they said were deliberately slowing operations.
The union denied its members were deliberately slowing operations.
The Pacific Maritime Assn., the employer group representing the shipping companies, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have been without a contract since July.
About 89 House members recently sent a letter to the heads of the association and union urging them to quickly resolve their differences. And the lawmakers hoped to get the House to approve a resolution Thursday with the same message.
Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), whose district includes the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, said the harbor was full of ships waiting to unload their goods and carry U.S. exports abroad.
She noted that about 40% of the cargo containers shipped to the U.S. arrive at those two ports and the effect of the cargo buildup had spread beyond the region.
"These ports are not only the economic engine for Southern California, but they play a vital role ... in our entire nation's economy, commerce and trade," Hahn said.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) warned that layoffs at U.S. businesses soon would spread if the dispute isn't settled. And a long-term port shutdown would be a "lose-lose" situation for the longshoremen, the ports and the economy.
A 2002 ports lockout led President George W. Bush to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act to force them to reopen because of the threat to the national economy. House members said Obama should do the same if there is a lockout or strike this time.
Obama was headed to the San Francisco Bay Area on Thursday for a cybersecurity summit Friday. Schrader said the president should take the opportunity to meet with the heads of the association and union, which are both located in San Francisco, and try to resolve the dispute.
"This is something he could do to take advantage of the opportunity," Schrader said. "I would hope that the two groups would take advantage of him being there and show America they care about America more than just about themselves."
Asked if Obama planned to intervene in the dispute, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Thursday that "we believe it should be resolved at the negotiating table."
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