West Coast ports shut down again on labor dispute

Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 30, 2002 at 11:41 p.m.
SAN FRANCISCO - Cargo worth hundreds of millions of dollars sat idle off the West Coast on Monday after dockworkers were locked out in a dispute that could cost the nation an estimated $1 billion a day.
A frail labor peace between shipping lines and West Coast longshoremen collapsed Sunday when workers were barred from the docks at all 29 major Pacific ports for the second time in less than two days.
The Pacific Maritime Association, representing shipping lines and sea terminal operators, ordered the lockout until the longshoremen's union agrees to extend a contract that expired July 1.
The labor crisis comes as importers scramble to secure goods for the Christmas shopping season.
Both sides agreed to meet Monday in San Francisco. They are at odds over benefits and pension packages and cargo-handling technology that the union fears would wipe out jobs.
Federal officials said the Bush administration has no immediate plans to declare a national emergency and try to end the shutdown. Still, the White House expressed concern.
"If it goes on for even a short period of time, it's a problem for the economy," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
The last time an economic emergency was declared and the government forced workers back to the job under the Taft-Hartley Act was 1978, when President Carter unsuccessfully tried to end a national coal strike.
The Bush administration is trying to get both sides to the bargaining table Thursday with federal mediators. The Pacific Maritime Association agreed, but the union has not yet replied.
Economists have warned a protracted disruption will send shivers through the U.S. economy. Retailers would not have goods to sell at fall promotions they have started to advertise. Exporters fear their produce could rot on the docks. Assembly lines may stop production as overseas parts never arrive.
Talks began deteriorating over the summer. Over Labor Day weekend, the union stopped approving rolling extensions of the contract.
West Coast ports handled more than $300 billion in cargo over the past year.
Over the weekend, about 30 ships had to moor outside berths at ports in Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., the association said. Seventy other vessels did not get serviced.
Negotiators with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing 10,500 dock workers, blamed shipping lines for the meltdown.
"This union is ready to go to work," Jim Spinoza, union president and chief negotiator, said Sunday in Los Angeles.
Pacific Maritime Association president Joseph Miniace called the decision a "defensive shutdown."
"I will not pay workers to strike," he said.
Longshoremen said they can accept short-term job losses from increased efficiency, but the union wanted guarantees that positions created by computer tracking systems would be union-covered.

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