Potato and apple trade associations are among 105 organizations asking President Barack Obama to pursue federal mediation in a labor standoff that’s held up cargo in the Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., ports.

Industry seeks federal mediation in port standoffThe Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore & Warehouse Union have been without a contract since July 1. Since Oct. 31, they have ended their public silence on negotiations to exchange accusations about the causes of delays in Washington.

Groups representing agriculture and other industries fear that signals an escalation in the dispute, they said in a Nov. 6 letter to the president.

“The sudden change in tone is alarming and suggests that a full shutdown of every West Coast port may be imminent,” according to the signers.

They include:

  • Washington State Tree Fruit Association;
  • U.S. Apple Association;
  • Washington State Potato Commission;
  • Idaho Potato Commission;
  • National Potato Council;
  • American Potato Trade Alliance;
  • United Fresh Produce Association;
  • American Farm Bureau Federation;
  • California Farm Bureau Federation;
  • Food Marketing Institute;
  • National Retail Federation; and
  • Agriculture Transportation Coalition.

                    The contract negotiations cover 13,600 workers at 29 West Coast ports. A study released in June by the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation estimated the cost of a five-day interruption at all West Coast ports at nearly $2 billion daily.

                    The two sides should be encouraged to work with a federal mediator through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, according to the letter, an approach that resolved negotiations at East Coast and Gulf Coast ports last year.

                    In the event of a strike or lockout, Obama should require mediation by invoking the Taft-Hartley Act, the signers said.

                    Copies were sent to members of Congress and governors of the West Coast states. Seattle and Tacoma, the most affected ports so far, handle about 16% of containerized cargo on the coast.