U.S. labor secretary getting involved in West Coast ports' contract dispute

SEATTLE -- There is new hope this week that the contract dispute and work slowdown at all 29 West Coast ports, including Seattle and Tacoma, could soon come to an end.

U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez is expected to meet with both sides Tuesday and try to help them iron out their differences.

There have been work slowdowns and management halting of loading and unloading of vessels -- all part of the ongoing contract dispute between the longshore union and shippers that threatens businesses, jobs and livelihoods.

"Anybody that still eats food it's affecting, because it's not coming in here,” business owner John Thomas said.

Thomas owns PS&l Warehouse in Puyallup. He delivers food to grocery stores but has suffered six-figure losses since November because of the port slowdown.

Norvanco International in Sumner is feeling the heat too. The company stores and ships everything from electronics to footwear and houseware. Because of the dispute, just getting merchandise is a real challenge.

"Typically we can pull a container from the port within two days of a vessel arriving; today we're looking anywhere from 7 to 10 days for that same container,” Norvanco International spokesman Marcus Moore said.

Loading and unloading cargo vessels at all 29 West Coast ports has been halted since Friday night.

While work is expected to resume Tuesday morning, no one knows whether the work slowdown will continue or ramp back up to normal.

"It's not just our ability to get things to the rest of the world, but also from the rest of the world,” Washington Council on International Trade spokesman Eric Schinfeld said.

The Washington Council on International Trade says 40% of state jobs are tied to importing and exporting goods worldwide.

President Barack Obama sent Perez to meet with the shipping companies represented by The Pacific Maritime Association and The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 20,000 dockworkers.

The hope is that federal intervention will help both sides reach a deal and bring an end to this nine-month dispute, before American families start really feeling the crunch.

"You are starting to see more and more that things you depend on to be able to go to the store and buy are not there because we don`t have our ports working effectively right now,” Schinfeld said.