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Amid Labor Dispute, Congressional Leaders Urge President Obama to Keep Ports Open to Commerce

Self-imposed slowdowns are having a profound impact on businesses and larger U.S. economy

February 19, 2015

Washington, D.C. — 

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Chairman Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), Transportation Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.), and Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) have sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging action on the unnecessary gridlock of goods at 29 West Coast shipping ports.

The effect of the delay on American consumers, shippers, and our economy grows each day. It is estimated that the ongoing delays will cost billions of dollars in higher transportation costs, increased storage fees, and food spoilage along with the costs of shippers’ damaged relationships with both domestic suppliers and international customers. A February 10, 2015, hearing held by the Senate Commerce Committee also focused on the lingering consequences of the slowdown.

The text of the letter to the president follows:

Dear Mr. President:

We write today to urge you to act quickly to ensure our nation’s ports remain open to commerce.  The ongoing labor dispute at our West Coast ports has disrupted our nation’s transportation network, supply chain, and, most significantly, our broader economy.

Unfortunately, the dispute has already had a substantial negative impact on the movement of goods throughout the nation, and the effects continue to grow as each day passes without a resolution.  As an increasing number of ships idle offshore, waiting to be loaded and unloaded, consumers and businesses across the country face empty shelves, agricultural producers lose access to international markets, and manufacturers struggle to find needed inputs. 

These import and export delays have significant negative economic impacts and lingering consequences.  The very real costs of delay include spoilage, especially of agricultural products, missed scheduled ports of call, higher transportation costs, or increased storage fees.  In addition, shippers with goods to export have missed deadlines and been forced to pay late-delivery penalties.  This dispute has damaged American suppliers’ relationships with their domestic and international customers, some of whom have started to turn to competing suppliers in other nations.

The U.S. transportation network serves the American economy by moving goods in a cost-effective and competitive manner to global marketplaces.  For the transportation network to work properly and serve our nation’s shippers and consumers, our ports must function efficiently and reliably.  This message was underscored at a subcommittee hearing held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on February 10, 2015. 

We fear this ongoing dispute will develop into a permanent loss of American jobs.  While we appreciate you dispatching the Secretary of Labor to meet with both sides, should there not be resolution by March 2, 2015, two months after the federal mediator was appointed, we hope we can count on your commitment to keep America’s ports open and operating efficiently by exercising additional leadership to resolve the situation. 

Click here to view a signed copy of the letter to President Obama.