Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is expected to meet with shipping companies and the dockworkers union Wednesday in an attempt to resolve a labor dispute that has intermittently stopped the unloading of ships at 29 West Coast ports.
The scheduled talks follow Perez's "positive and productive meetings with both parties" Tuesday, according to a Department of Labor official.
"Secretary Perez stressed that it's imperative the parties come to an immediate agreement to prevent further damage to our economy and further pain for American workers and their employers," the official said.
After nine months of talks, the two sides agree on key issues including healthcare but have been gridlocked over rules governing the removal of arbitrators, who settle disputes on the docks.
Dockworkers have been working without a contract since July.
The dispute -- as well as problems moving larger amounts of cargo from bigger ships -- has been hurting businesses for months. Firms that depend on the ports have reported lost sales as their goods languish at sea or on the docks.
Perry Ellis International Inc. said this week that some customers are receiving their goods more than two weeks late, because of the port slowdowns.
Over the holiday weekend, ships backed up further.
The Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents shipping companies, halted the unloading and loading of ships over the long weekend, saying it wouldn't pay overtime when the union is allegedly trying to gain leverage through slowdown tactics, including withholding skilled workers.
The local union in L.A. and Long Beach has said it's only limiting the number of crane operators without proper certification for safety reasons following several accidents. It contends employers aren't training enough operators.
Dockworkers returned to work on Tuesday. But the weekend closure—which followed similar ones Thursday and the previous weekend-- has sparked concerns of a prolonged shutdown.