The National Chicken Council, along with more than 100 other groups representing U.S. manufacturers, farmers, wholesalers, retailers, importers, exporters, and transportation and logistics providers sent a letter yesterday to President Obama to express their “deep concern” about ongoing interruptions at West Coast port terminal operations and to seek help to ensure the situation does not escalate to a complete shutdown of West Coast ports.

Labor contract negotiations, which began in May 2014,  between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) have made little progress since the contract expired on July 1, 2014. The letter to President Obama pointed out that there has been crisis levels of congestion at the ports since September.  While the parties to the negotiations stated earlier this year that they would continue operations throughout the negotiations, the ILWU and PMA have recently issued press releases accusing each other of reneging on their commitment.

“The sudden change in tone is alarming and suggests that a full shutdown of every West Coast port may be imminent,” the letter said.  “The impact this would have on jobs; down-stream consumers; and the business operations of exporters, importers, retailers,  transportation providers, manufacturers, and other stakeholders would be catastrophic,” the groups pointed out to President Obama.  The groups said that immediate action is necessary and the federal government’s use of all of its available options would be helpful in heading off a shutdown and keeping the parties at the negotiating table.

Available federal government options include encouraging the parties to begin working with a federal mediator through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS).  “Even if both parties refuse federal mediation, we believe the FMCS would benefit from beginning to monitor the negotiations,” the groups said.  “We further believe that, if a strike or lockout occurs, the consequences would be so serious as to warrant your exercising the extraordinary authority granted under the Taft-Hartley Act that would likely result in requiring the parties to work with the FMCS,” the letter concluded.

The threat of a West Coast port shutdown continues to create a high level of uncertainly, which has forced many businesses to once again undertake contingency plans that come at a significant cost to jobs and economic competitiveness.  The West Coast lockout 12 years ago cost the U.S. economy $1 billion a day.  And, it took 6 months for the ports to clear the backlog and recover from the 10-day shutdown.  A new study released in June by the National Association of manufacturers and the National Retail Federation anticipates nearly $2 billion in daily costs to the economy for a five-day interruption.