Labor Secretary Perez says PMA-ILWU need negotiation reform

Speaking to an LA Chamber event in Washington, the official who brokered the Feb. 23 labor deal said LA Mayor Garcetti and Port Director Seroka were instrumental in solving the crisis-level contract talks.

Excerpt from American Shipper |  By: Eric Johnson |  March 17, 2015

U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez said Tuesday that he told leadership from the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union not to surrender their innate advantages when he was flown in to resolve a nine month-long standoff over a new labor contract.

Speaking at a Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce event in Washington, D.C., Perez also said the acrimonious contract negotiations would never have been resolved without the work of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Port of L.A. Executive Director Gene Seroka (who were both in attendance), and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia.

During his brief talk, Perez called for labor negotiation reform, but also suggested the PMA leadership needs to be reformed – though he singled out PMA Executive Director Jim McKenna as a skilled negotiator.

“Most of the (PMA) board members are VPs,” he said. “No disrespect to them, but we went over their heads. I got a hold of Maersk’s CEO when he was in New Zealand and said, do you know what’s going on? We needed to elevate. We needed to escalate.”

Perez and federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh helped bring negotiations to a close Feb. 23, though the tentative five-year contract has not yet been ratified by ILWU members.

“We would not have brought the port dispute to conclusion without the active involvement of Gene Seroka,” Perez said. “He’s got game.”

Of Garcetti, he said, “Mayor, I’ll get in a foxhole with you any day of the week.”

Perez said the resolution of negotiations was helped in large part by the intel he received from various stakeholders once he landed on the West Coast. He specifically cited the information Seroka was able to convey about current Pacific Maritime Association board members, since Seroka served on the board in his past role with the liner carrier APL.

“I got useful insight on every member on that board,” said Perez.

Perez was brought in by President Obama on Feb. 14, as shippers deeply affected by worsening port conditions begged the administration to take an active role in negotiations. Perez said the White House had been monitoring the situation for months.

Depositphotos_11345140_kzlobastovHe used a football reference to measure the impact of a federal mediator sent into the resolve the contract dispute, saying the PMA and ILWU had been on the 30-yard line before Beckenbaugh had been brought in, and that Beckenbaugh brought the two sides to “first and goal at the 9-yard line.”

That’s when Perez was brought in at the behest of local government leaders on the West Coast.

“I told them, when it’s first and goal at the 9-yard line, you don’t punt the football,” Perez said.

Perez said he laid the stakes out clearly for the PMA and ILWU.

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“Our biggest threat wasn’t Taft-Hartley, it was market forces,” said Perez, noting that ports in Mexico and Canada are eager to handle volume that would typically move through U.S. ports. “I never got calls from the Mayor of Savannah. He was excited about the dispute.”

Later in his talk, Perez returned to the issue of the innate advantages PMA and the ILWU currently enjoy, reminding the organizations not to lose sight of those.

“I told them, you have a natural advantage of location,” he said. “But if you don’t recognize that reliability is your greatest currency, your location, location, location will be offset by reputation, reputation, reputation.”

Perez also joked that the two sides didn’t want to end up in Washington.

“I said we’re going to settle this in San Francisco, or we’re going to Washington,” Perez said. “I guess some people don’t like going to Washington.”