The labor dispute between the longshoremen’s union and ship owners at dozens of West Coast seaports has become a critical problem, with some ships being forced to wait weeks before entering terminals. The economic costs in the Central Valley are increasingly severe – as ships get stuck at the ports, commerce is being slowly strangled. Customers for our products and commodities are canceling contracts and seeking out new suppliers, causing local businesses to warn of imminent layoffs. As is typically the case in these situations, farms and small businesses are particularly hard hit.
The livelihood of Central Valley families cannot be held hostage to a labor dispute. It’s intolerable that the food they work so hard to produce is simply rotting away on the docks.
The Obama administration has appointed a mediator to the dispute, but more needs to be done. The situation is urgent and could become even worse if the conflict escalates into a full shutdown at the ports. President Obama needs to announce forcefully that the federal government expects a fast resolution to this dispute. He must also clarify that if a full shutdown occurs, he will not hesitate to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act to reopen the ports, much as President Bush did in 2002 amid a similar labor dispute at the same locations.
When President Obama visited the Central Valley a year ago, he made a few brief remarks about the water crisis and then treated us to a lecture about global warming. Now that Central Valley families are suffering from a water crisis as well as a labor crisis, I urge the President to set aside his usual rhetoric, become fully engaged in the Valley’s struggles, and use the full authority of his office to help restore commerce in our communities.