While not yet ratified, an agreement on a new contract for West Coast port workers has been reached, ending four months of work slow-downs and temporary closures that have severely harmed our industry and the entire U.S. economy. While an agreement is welcome news, the damage has already been done; tens of millions in lost sales at a time when they were most needed, and lost market share that it will take time to recover. I believe there are important lessons to be learned from this debacle so that we can prevent it from happening again.
From the beginning, trade-dependent sectors argued that intervention by the Obama Administration and other high-level public officials would be swiftest way to bring the parties to an agreement. This was proved true when an agreement was reached one week after the direct involvement of U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez in the negotiations. So why did it take three and a half months for this to happen?
It is too often the case when discussing international trade that the broadly distributed beneficiaries of trade far outweigh the interests of a vocal minority, but it is the minority whose interests prevail. In cases like this it is tempting to put the exclusive blame on these minority interests for promoting bad policies. However, we might also ask if we have been as vocal as this minority in defense of our own interests.
In the case of the port slowdowns, our industry did aggressively push for a resolution and became one of the more visible sectors on this issue in the media. But if we are going to prevent similar incidents in the future, we need to do more to tell our story to the public and to our elected officials. They must understand our value and how much we care before a similar disruption occurs, so they will work harder to prevent it.
The formation of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association was an important step forward in our ability to make the case for our industry and its interests, but such efforts cannot be successful without the support and engagement of members like you. We recently held our annual Tree Fruit Day in Olympia, where we briefed more than fifty legislators about the value and concerns of the tree fruit industry in Washington State. While the pain and frustration of the past four months is still fresh in your mind, I encourage you to call Joanne Thomas at 509-665-9641 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place for Tree Fruit Day 2016.
Jon DeVaney is president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association. A version of this essay originally appeared in the WSTFA Newsletter.