Lawmakers push for West Coast port contract solution

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Problems continue to mount at West Coast ports as workers try to negotiate new contracts, and it's having a ripple effect here in the Central Valley. (KFSN)

Problems continue to mount at West Coast ports as workers try to negotiate new contracts, and it's having a ripple effect here in the Central Valley. Twelve-thousand citrus workers aren't getting as many hours on the job because less is being exported.

It looks like it's business as usually at Bee Sweet Citrus in Fowler. But at a press conference Monday, Vice President James Sherwood says they're running at only 65 percent of normal.

"It's a tremendous hardship on their families," said Sherwood.

The slowdowns are blamed on lengthy contract negotiations between Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. That means less produce is being exported internationally and the process as a whole is taking longer.

"We feed part of the world, and our ability to feed part of the world depends directly on our ability to export those products out of our ports," said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

Congressman Costa and more than 60 other lawmakers are pushing President Barack Obama to push for a contract solution and possibly intervene.

"The administration must do everything they can," said Costa.

Hundreds of boxes sit unused in packing houses in the Central Valley -- leaving thousands of citrus in limbo. Citrus industry leaders say they're losing $15 million a week because produce isn't able to move.

"There's going to be a lot of economic damage occurring this year for the citrus growers," California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen said.

Nelsen says port shutdowns are just the latest problem for growers. Warmer temperatures already mean a shorter citrus season.

Right now, fruit is dropping off the trees because it needs to be harvested. But, harvesting won't solve the problem if there is no place to send it.

President Obama has asked his Labor Secretary Tom Perez to come to California and help jumpstart negotiations this week.

Related Topics:
politicsagricultureag watchfresno countycalifornia
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