A container ship at the Port of Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of the port

President Obama is sending his labor secretary to California to help end a labor dispute that has partially closed 28 West Coast ports, including San Diego.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez will attempt to broker an agreement between shipping companies represented by the Pacific Maritime Association and dockworkers who are members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The news agency Reuters reported that as of Sunday morning, 34 container ships, tankers and other cargo vessels were waiting to dock at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The two ports account for account for 40 percent of the nation’s incoming container cargo, with $1 billion in goods passing through daily.

The shipping companies say union workers have been purposely slowing down operations for months. The employers in response have refused to pay higher wages for weekend shifts and the Presidents Day holiday, effectively shutting down the ports for the second weekend in a row.

“What they’re doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike,” said Pacific Maritime spokesman Wade Gates.

The ILWU has blasted the halt of vessel activity as “crazy and irresponsible.”

The dispute has slowed deliveries of a wide range of goods, and played havoc with “just-in-time” supply chains.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.