A strike by 800 clerks represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and supported by 10,000 dockworkers has shut down the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles at a critical time for the nation's retailers.
In response, the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) have called on President Obama to step in and put an end to the work stoppage.
"The shutdown is already having a significant negative economic impact on retailers trying to bring in merchandise for their final push for holiday sales and will soon have an impact on consumers," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of NRF, in a statement. "The work stoppage not only impacts retailers, but is also affecting their product vendors — many of which are small businesses — and other industries like manufacturers and agricultural exporters that rely on the ports."
"Given the enormous risk posed by a prolonged shutdown of the nation's busiest ports, we urge you to consider all options, including invoking the Taft-Hartley Act, in order to restore the critical flow of commerce," said Sandy Kennedy, president of RILA, in a letter to President Obama. "We respectfully ask that you put the weight of the White House behind resolving this dispute."
Up to this point, the Obama Administration has urged the various sides of the dispute to work together to reach an agreement.
Clerks, who make an average of $80,000 a year not counting overtime, are seeking a 2.5 percent increase in pay. Members of the union, who say they have not had a raise in four years, have been without a contract since July 2010.
Both the ILWU and unions that support the strike argue that federal intervention would allow employers to avoid negotiating in good faith. In addition to wage increases, the union is seeking to address outsourcing within the industry.
Some have suggested the strike at the two ports is costing the U.S. economy $1 billion a day. That figure is misleading, according to Jock O'Connell, an international trade economist, thought to be the source of the figure.
Mr. O'Connell who said $1 billion worth of cargo comes through the ports on a daily basis, told Southern California Public Radio, "Clearly the billion dollars or so of cargo that would have moved through the port had it been open is not going be dumped into the harbor."
Should the federal government step in and force workers at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to go back to work?