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Commissioner William P. Doyle addresses the Baltimore Port Alliance concerning port congestion and West Coast negotiations

February 20, 2015

Good Morning.  Thank you Commissioner Lidinsky for the opening remarks and presentation; thank you Honorable Helen Bentley for your warm introduction, and thank you members of the Baltimore Port Alliance for inviting us to address you this morning.

As Ms. Bentley mentioned, I am a Massachusetts Maritime Academy graduate and I sailed as a marine engineer in the U.S. Merchant Marine.  I also am an attorney and served as Chief-of-Staff and a maritime labor lawyer with the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association.  Now, I am a Commissioner with the Federal Maritime Commission.  With that background, I have had the fortunate opportunity over the past 25 years to meet and work with many folks on both the corporate and labor side of the maritime industry.

I know there are many people wondering about the events occurring on the West Coast with respect to the ongoing collective bargaining negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).  I can say that I am optimistic – there may be a conclusion to the negotiations today—good news is forthcoming. 

Before walking in here, I spoke this morning with some of the member companies of the PMA and also with Administration officials who are seated at the negotiation table in San Francisco, California.  As you are aware, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh is working diligently in finding common ground.  And President Obama dispatched Labor Secretary Tom Perez to the West Coast earlier this week to help with shaping a conclusion to the negotiations.  In addition, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker joined the negotiations as well as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.  They are doing a great job at the table.  For the past few weeks I have been in contact with labor and management parties directly involved in the negotiations, and over the past two weeks I have been briefing the White House and the Secretary of Labor’s office.

It is important to understand that if a deal is reached today between the ILWU and the PMA, that such an agreement would be considered "tentative." It would be tentative, because the agreement would be subject to the ratification of the ILWU membership.  These have been difficult negotiations.  Both sides understand there is a major transformation going on the international maritime sector that affects the entire supply chain—and both sides want to get it right for their respective constituent groups.  These things take time.  (Note, the Parties announced on the evening of February 20, 2015, a tentative agreement on a new five-year contract that will be presented to the membership)

On Friday evening Commissioner Doyle stated:

"I congratulate ILWU International President Big Bob McEllrath and PMA President and CEO Jim McKenna and their negotiating teams for reaching an agreement this evening and I am confident that the agreement will be ratified."

Moving on, Commissioner Lidinsky showed you a presentation on the background of the FMC which included a synopsis of the nationwide port congestion field hearings the Commission conducted last year.  

I would like to point out that regardless of when the West Coast negotiations conclude, we still have much work to do on issues related to port congestion. 

Port congestion is a world-wide problem and in the U.S. it revolves around the following issues:

  • Larger ships entering ports
  • Chassis shortage and dislocation
  • Formation of shipping Alliances
  • Long truck turn times
  • The exodus of truck drivers who cannot make a living wage
  • Larger vessels discharging cargo
  • Vessel bunching
  • Rail service delays, including a shortage of railcars nationwide
  • One other point of great discontent relates to demurrage fees (shippers who are ready willing and able to pick up their cargo yet, through no fault of their own, they must pay demurrage fees for days beyond "free time" that the cargo sits in a terminal).

The port congestion forums hosted by the Federal Maritime Commission have been a unique opportunity for stakeholders to gather in one room, share their views, be listened to, and to respond to the concerns of other affected sectors. We have a good idea of the causes aggravating congestion in many of our nation’s ports. The participants also came with ideas on solutions. There is no silver bullet, but I am convinced we can significantly reduce the gridlock and congestion with hard work and cooperation among all stakeholders. I look forward to the next steps the Commission takes and the participation of the stakeholders in crafting solutions. Our ports must remain globally competitive to promote economic growth. These first steps will help foster a fair, efficient and more reliable international transportation system.

Please see link to Commissioner Doyle’s November 13, 2014 briefing to the Commission on the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Port Congestion Forum: http://www.fmc.gov/doyle-mid-atlantic-port-forum-briefing/