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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Slowdown at ports needs quick solution

Little did we know at the time, but the most frightening event of Halloween might’ve occurred in Tacoma, when dockworkers began to work more deliberately to protest protracted contract negotiations. From there, the slowdown spread to Seattle, Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Last Monday, the negotiating impasse went public when union leaders bashed management’s “deceitful media tactics” in blaming longshoremen for port congestion. The implications of labor strife along the West Coast are far-reaching and may call for federal intervention if the issues cannot be quickly resolved.

A total of 12.5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product is tied to port business. As the most trade-dependent state, Washington suffers more acute pain. Apple growers had a record crop, so bountiful that nearly half of it is expected to be exported. But now shipments slated for 60 countries are stalled at the ports. If the apples aren’t moved soon, they will spoil.

A photo in the Tacoma News Tribune shows a long line of trucks sitting outside the Port of Tacoma. Rail companies are warning customers that shipments West may not make it to their foreign destinations. Such an occurrence must cause indigestion for the grain growers who gathered recently to celebrate the construction of a rail loading facility on the West Plains.

A port slowdown is also trouble for businesses trying to move goods as the holiday shopping season approaches. On Thursday, the National Retail Federation and other business groups sent a letter to President Barack Obama calling on him to assign a federal mediator.

The Pacific Maritime Association, representing port employers, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing the longshoremen, both know a shutdown is not in their interests. Canadian and East Coast and Gulf ports would eagerly accept more shipments. The Panama Canal is being widened, which threatens West Coast commerce.

The issues surrounding the impasse come from a bygone era. The unions aren’t happy with automation and other efforts to computerize operations, because they supplant workers. ILWU jobs are among the highest paying blue collar jobs still around. According to, a website for shipping and cargo news, “full-time workers earn an average of $142,000 annually in wages, along with a non-wage benefits package costing more than $82,000 per active worker per year.”

One of the initial sticking points, which reportedly has been resolved, was how employers and the union were going to absorb the costs of the federal tax on gold-plated health care plans. That levy is one of the funding mechanisms for the Affordable Care Act subsidies. Under the current contract, ILWU workers and family members are covered 100 percent. Their co-pays for prescriptions are $1. Whatever their “burden” becomes with the Obamacare tax, they’ll still have a health care plan that average Americans cannot fathom.

Longshoremen make a fantastic living. Port businesses turn big profits. Their labor issues should not burden the rest of us.

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