20:43 GMT +318 December 2018
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    Ships sit anchored in Commencement Bay outside the Port of Tacoma in Washington State.

    On Strike: US Economy Losing Billions During West Coast Port Shutdown

    © AP Photo/ Ted S. Warren
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    The Obama administration is trying to help resolve a contract dispute at West Coast ports that is costing the US economy billions of dollars the longer it drags out.

    The International Longshore and Warehouse Union representing dock workers at 29 ports on the West Coast is in loggerheads with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the companies that own those giant cargo ships that come from Asia packed with stuff to unload on the U.S. marketplace. All the ports now sitting idle are estimated to handle about $1 trillion in goods annually.

    The union and the association have been negotiating a new contract for some time now and have agreed on some basic issues such as wages and benefits, but disagree over how future disputes should be handled.

    The association wants the current system of a lifetime arbitrator, while the union wants to change things and be able to replace an arbitrator.

    And because of that disagreement, no work is getting done and the ports are quiet. Meanwhile, dozens of ships are anchored off the California and Washington state coasts waiting for the dispute to end so they can dock and unload their goods.

    Labor Secretary Tom Pérez’s office said his meetings earlier in the week in California  to break the impasse were very “positive and productive,” and while he has no legal authority to get an agreement worked out, the White House says it is keen to help solve the issue. 

    The last time there was a work stoppage on the West Coast docks it was in 2002 and cost the country about $1 billion a day – for just ten days. It’s projected to cost twice that for this current one if a resolution isn’t found very soon, and that would have severe economic consequences, such as a scarcity of goods and higher prices for products already on the market.

    “While the parties have made tremendous progress, Secretary Pérez stressed that it's imperative the parties come to an immediate agreement to prevent further damage to our economy and further pain for American workers and their employers,” Pérez’s office said in a statement.

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