- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

From combined dispatches
LOS ANGELES President Bush urged West Coast longshoremen yesterday to "get back to work," saying the labor dispute that has shut down ports from San Diego to Seattle threatens the nation's economy.
"We're worried about it. We're closely monitoring it," Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House on the third day of the indefinite lockout at 29 major West Coast ports.
"Any strike's a tough situation, but this one happens to come at or, a lockout is a tough situation, or no work is a tough situation this is coming at a bad time," he said.
The ports are closed because of a contract dispute between shipping companies and dockworkers that may drain billions of dollars from an already faltering economy.
Nissan Motor Co. said it may delay the introduction of the Infiniti M45 sedan, scheduled for Friday, and Yellow Corp., the nation's largest trucker, was planning to ship through East Coast, Southern or Canadian ports. Retailers, including Gap Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said they are working on ways to cope with a shutdown.
"Any West Coast dock strike would have major national implications," said Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "If you have a national economy that is sluggish" and are concerned that a return to recession is possible, "this would not be good news."
The ports handle about $300 billion in trade a year, including clothes, toys, electronics and furniture for retailers preparing for the holiday shopping season. A shutdown for 10 days may cost the economy as much as $19.4 billion, Martin Associates, a consulting firm, said in a study conducted for shipping companies.
The National Retail Federation called on Mr. Bush yesterday to take immediate action to reopen the ports, warning that the shutdown could lead to store closings, layoffs and shortages of products during the holiday shopping season.
The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents shipping companies and terminal operators, has locked out about 10,500 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union since Sunday.
A federal mediation session fell apart yesterday even before it began. Union representatives stormed out, saying their employers showed up with "gun-toting security guards."
Jim Spinosa, the union's president and chief negotiator, accused the PMA of sabotaging the session. "PMA's lockout is holding a gun to the head of the American economy, and now they move to aim real guns at us."
A spokesman for the association said the guards were present to ensure the safety of the association's president and chief negotiator.
"They have been deployed in a very discreet manner, and we would hope the union would understand these circumstances," spokesman Steve Sugerman said.
The carriers won't reopen cargo terminals without a new labor contract or until the dockworkers union signs a temporary extension, the PMA said. The union opposes an extension.
"When we are three, four or five days into a disruption that creates a void," manufacturers must "decide whether to keep assembly lines open," said National Industrial Transportation League Vice President Peter Gatti, whose group lobbies in Washington for General Motors Corp. and about 800 other companies on freight-shipping issues.
Nissan said a shipment including 350Z sports cars and Infiniti G35 sedans and coupes was due at Long Beach, Calif., early in the week. Supplies of the cars were tight before the shutdown, so dealers and customers may not receive vehicles on schedule without an opening soon, Nissan spokeswoman Gina Pasco said.
An extended closing would push back the introduction of the Infiniti M45 luxury sedan, she said.
Terminals were closed late Friday and reopened early Sunday, only to shut later that day because slowdowns reduced productivity by 54 percent, the carriers association said. Union Pacific Corp. and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., the two largest U.S. railroads, halted trains with thousands of export shipments.
Consumers in Hawaii and Alaska, which receive most of their food and merchandise by boat, will feel the effects in days, said Robin Lanier, chairman of the West Coast Waterfront Coalition trade group, whose members include Wal-Mart.
The union and the carriers group have been negotiating a new contract since May. The carriers want more computers at terminals to speed up cargo flows, while the union won't agree unless it gets control over more of those jobs.

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