The initial deadline for reaching agreement on a new labor contract governing America’s 29 West Coast ports passed a week ago today and the uncertainty of negotiations has many businesses in Southern California worried. That is why the Chamber has joined with many other U.S. business organizations in encouraging the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) to make every attempt to conclude a new agreement as quickly as possible.

The PMA, which represents the shipping companies and employers, and the ILWU, which represents the 20,000 dock workers throughout the ports in California, Oregon and Washington announced yesterday that they will take a 72-hour break from negotiations ending at 8 a.m. on Friday, July 11. For this period, the parties will extend the previous six-year contract that expired last week.

About 12.5 percent of the U.S. GDP currently flows through the ports, and 9.2 million jobs across America — including 3.7 million in California alone — depend on the efficient flow of goods on and off the West Coast docks. Industries spanning agriculture to manufacturing, from autos to electronics, and across all sectors of retail are currently scampering to implement contingency plans given that a new contract has not been negotiated.

West Coast ports have been leaking market share for the past decade, as competing ports on America’s East and Gulf coasts have been lowering costs, improving performance and building infrastructure to attract greater shipping volumes. United States manufacturing patterns are also shifting, putting more origination and destination points closer to East and Gulf coasts.

The West Coast is not the monopoly it used to be — and the current lack of an agreement only hastens shippers’ efforts to further diversify their transportation networks. These plans fuel the worries of employees, families, communities and businesses small and large, who together wonder if we’ll see a repeat of 2002’s billion-dollar-per-day coast-wide shut down.

Given the critical importance of the ports to our regional economy, and for the sake of the millions of people who depend on the uninterrupted flow of goods in and out of America, the Chamber calls on the ILWU and PMA to finalize negotiations as quickly as possible.