Opinion

Dock dispute doesn’t need presidential fix

Friday’s News Tribune editorial suggested that President Obama “invoke his authority as the nation’s chief executive” to relieve the port congestion stemming from a contract dispute between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

That authority rests in his invoking powers stemming from the Taft-Hartley Act, which gives the president the ability to fix labor disputes that impact the national economy.

This is not the solution.

Taft-Hartley provisions were meant for strikes. The ILWU is not on strike. Taft-Hartley provisions clearly help the employer in contract disputes, and in no way should the PMA be rewarded for its actions, which clearly threaten the economy of our region, state and nation.

Longshore workers normally work the docks of Tacoma 24 hours a day, 360 days a year.

The PMA’s “lockout lite” of first cutting off night work and now holiday and weekend work has reduced our workforce that loads and unloads ships to a mere 32 of a possible 240 hours in the current 10-day span. Furthermore, it is not the ILWU’s fault that the PMA has mismanaged our docks, off-sourced chassis repair and not trained enough workers for the job.

This contract dispute is ultimately about foreign-owned companies determined to destroy a workforce with no regard for the impact to our community, the thousands of workers at the port and the tens of thousands of workers across Washington whose livelihood depends on international trade. They care only about their profits and the power to destroy 80 years of negotiated contracts and safety agreements that protect workers performing the second most dangerous job in America.

The greed of PMA and its member companies is profound. They have lied about our wages and contract negotiations to the press. Two K-Line officials were just sentenced to federal prison for price-fixing, and Maersk Lines was fined $8.7 million in November for false documents regarding military shipments to Afghanistan.

This contract dispute cannot be equated to a struggling industry with a union unwavering in its demands. This is about companies based in Taiwan, Denmark, England, Japan and China not worried about the safety and welfare of their workers and their families or about the short-term consequences of their actions. The greed that drives them puts our economy at risk.

The longshore workers at the Port of Tacoma are vital members of our community. We volunteer as youth coaches, serve at food kitchens and lead PTAs. We are part of our community in hundreds of other ways, including the nearly $50,000 we raise every year at Christmas in presents for hundreds of kids who would not have anything at Christmas.

We’ve been recipients of the city of Tacoma’s Destiny Awards and last month were awarded the Gold Star Award from the Tacoma Public Schools for our actions helping low-income youth in the community.

The ILWU and the PMA are close on a contract. After nine months of negotiations, we have only a few issues left. Despite having a federal mediator at the table, the PMA has been only intermittently coming to the negotiating table and now, this weekend, failed to place an order for longshore labor at the docks of Tacoma while more than a dozen ships sit idle at the docks or in Commencement Bay.

If our West Coast ports were bombed by a foreign country or terrorist group, the nation would rally, and there would not be enough little American flags or lapel pins in the marketplace to meet the demands. Instead, a consortium of foreign companies has essentially done the same thing, and yet, combating corporate greed isn’t as clear-cut as fighting a war.

We agree that something needs to be done to get our docks moving again. We sit at the bargaining table every day, wondering if the PMA will show up and have serious talks about relieving the congestion on our docks and work toward a fair contract for both sides.

This weekend, President Obama ordered Labor Secretary Tom Perez to help facilitate an ending to these deliberations. We welcome this step and hope it helps find a solution that gets our docks moving again.

Dean McGrath is president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 23 in Tacoma. He served as a union representative and teacher in the Tacoma School District and has been part of the Tacoma working waterfront since 1992.

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