The bite should rather get the ports back to work - The Mercury News | MCU Times

The bite should rather get the ports back to work – The Mercury News

Port stops and shipping costs may sound like speakeasies in Silver Lake, but the pain in our wallets has forced us to freshen up these and other global supply chain problems that are driving the fastest rising inflation in 30 years. Much less fun than a speakeasy.

So while Democrats are taking a victory lap after passing a much-needed $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure package, the fact that 70% of Americans rate the economy negatively is a sign that their parade route needs to be very short. People may understand that the pandemic is putting a dent in the global supply chain, but they do not care. They just want the price of groceries to fall.

Which brings me to this: If President Biden thinks he’s in the hot seat now – when half the Americans blame him for rising costs – next summer may feel like pure hell.

On 1 July 2022, the contract for port workers on the West Coast expires, and no new contract has yet been agreed. Since 1996, every negotiation between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association has come down with work declines. Consider what a drop in productivity would do for an economy already riddled with an almost record-breaking logjam. It’s downright scary. With the backlog combined with a labor movement changing the work culture, the union has far more influence today than it had the last time the parties were in contract negotiations, six years ago.

The Biden administration must do more than just keep track of the situation. Solving the problems at the ports should be the main priority, as the pandemic was in the first months of the administration.

Last time, after a federal mediator failed to resolve the conflict between ILWU and port managers, President Obama had to send Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to stop the conflict, which had forced 29 ports to shut down.

“It was very stressful,” Perez told me Wednesday. He said one of the federal government’s tools for resolving such a dispute is the Taft-Hartley Act, which excludes some strikes and other workers’ tactics – a blunt instrument. “We did not call on Taft-Hartley, and we did not need or threatened with it. The parties had fights, but there was mutual respect. We let collective bargaining govern the day, the parties involved got equal advantage, and we did not have to invoke, what people call ‘the nuclear option’. “

It would not be a good thing for Biden, who proclaims his White House as one of the most pro-union administrations ever, to turn to a law that would force harbor union members back to work if things get ugly. Not to mention that if Biden is considered an actor in bad faith in these negotiations, it could be problematic for his administration in 2024, as the contract for the International Longshoremen’s Assn. – stretching from Maine to Texas – expires and he is running for re-election.

So can the president make a strong arm feel like a warm embrace to everyone involved? Maybe not.

For Biden, who was approved by the ILWU, there really is no great victory for him politically by any means. If he leans on the union, which is fighting against increased automation that would lead to job losses, he will be accused of not worrying about working families. Show himself to the side of workers and he will appear as anti-business.

Yet it is worth the risk, as he may remember from his time as vice president. Back in 2015, when Perez had to step in, an industry study estimated that prolonged port closures cost the economy nearly $ 2 billion a day. Today, the harbor bottleneck gets a large share of the blame for the anemic GDP growth of 2% in the third quarter, after the country had a rate of 6.7% in the second.

If negotiations between ports and port workers go south, “inflation” may be too weak a word to describe the effect on the economy.

Unfortunately, there will not be a silver ball. Do you remember the fall when Biden announced an agreement to have the ports run 24/7 in an effort to ease the backlog? Well, apparently there were not enough truck drivers and night warehouse workers to make the move efficient, which makes sense when you remember that many employers say they struggle to find workers. There is no quick fix here.

But with more than 500,000 shipping containers waiting to be unloaded near Southern California alone, time is of the essence.

The bite must come before the July deadline by facilitating an employment contract. He does not have the luxury of letting things unfold.

“One thing about port jobs is that they are some of the best blue collar jobs available,” said Perez, who also credits LA Mayor Eric Garcetti with helping with the 2015 negotiations. “The challenge that may arise in these negotiations is about automation.

“After we settled the contract, I traveled around and looked at some of the most advanced ports in the world. In Hamburg, Germany, they were far more automated. But they were able to make the transition without net job loss. That is the solution. Automation creates a new set of jobs: People have to repair cranes and vehicles, and therefore workers moved from one classification to another. Automation also enabled them to be more efficient, so they were able to unload more cargo, and they needed more workers. “

That’s the kind of thing Americans want to hear. Getting through the contract negotiations and moving towards this reality is the only way to a lasting victory for business, the labor market or the Biden administration.

LZ Granderson is the op-ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times. © 2021 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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