The nation’s largest retail trade group on Thursday called on President Barack Obama to help end a strike that has shut down most cargo operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

A letter to the president from Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation, said the ongoing strike could have dire economic consequences and urged Obama to restart stalled negotiations between the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association, which represents terminal operators at the ports, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s Local 63 Office and Clerical Unit, which represents about 800 harbor office clerks.

“A prolonged strike at the nation’s largest ports would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy,” Shay’s letter read. “We call upon you to use all means necessary to get the two sides back to the negotiating table.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Wednesday said that the strike is already hurting the local economy and urged the two sides to resume negotiations before more harm is done.

“It is only a matter of time until the damage to our local economy has major national implications,” Villaraigosa wrote in a letter to union and employers’ representatives. “The time for you to act is now.”

Meanwhile, representatives Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, Judy Chu, D-El Monte and Grace Napolitano, D-Santa Fe Springs, have all issued statements supporting the striking workers.

The strike started Tuesday, with about 65 office and clerical workers picketing at Pier 400, the biggest and busiest terminal at the Port of Los Angeles. Longshore workers refused to cross the picket, effectively closing the terminal. The clerical workers’ strike spread Wednesday to seven of eight terminals in Los Angeles and three of six in Long Beach.

With most container terminals closed, at least three ships have opted to steam toward other ports – two have gone to Oakland and one to Ensenada, Mexico – while others are anchored outside of the harbor, said Dick McKenna, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which monitors ship movements at the local harbors.

The clerical workers and harbor employers have been negotiating for more than two years. The most recent contract expired in July 2010. The main sticking point between the two sides has been job security, with employers saying they have offered complete security to current workers and the union saying employers are trying to send clerical jobs to Taiwan and Texas.

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