The biggest story of the week in the Northwest, and one not getting especially strong news coverage, is the now-arrived massive Pacific Coast port shutdowns, extending across a vast distance north to Alaska and south through California.
And not just a regional story, but national. The members of Congress beginning to scurry about calling for help – from the White House among other places – are not misplacing their concerns.
Here’s one comment, one of many like it around the net as last week ended, from the Retail Industry Leaders Association: “A breakdown in contract negotiations between labor and management at America's west coast ports is threatening to turn a slowdown into a full-scale strike, and an economic headache into a full-blown crisis that impacts the entire American economy.”
Ports on the west coast carry an estimated 43.5% of all container cargo in the United States – something like a trillion dollars in trade. You have to assume that in the Pacific Northwest, the percentage is much higher. Businesses will not be able to get supplies or get to market; consumers will not get goods. The economy could screech to a halt.
The battle between the Pacific Maritime Association (which represents the 29 big pacific ports, including Seattle, Portland and Tacoma) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers has turned poisonous. Each essentially is accusing the other of bad faith, and making essentially personal shots at the other. And each seems to have grievances with the other that seem to reach beyond the merely emotional.
Getting past this won’t be easy.
Time has come for the national government to weigh in. All these cheerful economic numbers – like the excellent employment news released last week – could come to an end if this loggerheads on the Pacific Coast doesn’t.