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Federal mediators join West Coast ports dispute


New York -- U.S. mediators are joining the labor talks at West Coast ports in an attempt to jumpstart the stalled negotiations between the powerful International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). The U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service announced its involvement in the talks late on Monday.

“We are prepared and ready to render prompt assistance,” Allison Beck, acting director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said in a statement.

The ILWU and PMA are negotiating a new contract to replace one that expired on July 1, 2014. The negotiations started last May. Over the past several months tensions between negotiators have grown and the flow of goods through the ports has slowed considerably.

According to the Journal of Commerce, in November, just 46% of vessels arrived on time at America’s two largest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, down from around 90% in July.

"Retailers welcome the news that negotiators have embraced mediation and we urge all sides to work hastily to reach an agreement that prevents a shutdown and restores the free flow of cargo through West Coast ports,” said Retail Industry Leaders Association president Sandy Kennedy. “The current slowdown has stranded cargo offshore, which harms consumers unable to find the products they seek, retailers that lose sales and ultimately the economy at-large.”

Citing big differences in issues including wages and work rules, the maritime association requested federal help last month.

The union had resisted, but late Monday the federal mediation service said it would get involved based upon "a joint request for assistance."

In its statement, the service said deputy director Scot Beckenbaugh "has been assigned to help the parties bring these important negotiations to a mutually acceptable resolution."

The National Retail Federation called the announcement "the first positive news from the West Coast ports in some time."

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