- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

Dockworkers and shipping companies on the West Coast reached a tentative six-year contract agreement early yesterday in a labor dispute that has cost the economy $20 billion and caused the White House to intervene.
A majority of the 10,500 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) are expected to ratify the plan Dec. 9.
The tentative deal provides "substantial improvements" in wages, benefits and safety protections, according to the federal mediator involved in the negotiations between the union and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). The association represents the shippers working out of ports in California, Washington and Oregon.
The union, mediators and maritime association declined to give more specific details about the contract.
Peter Hurtgen, head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which had been appointed to supervise contract talks, said the deal also will provide for technology upgrades at the docks.
The previous contract expired in July. During negotiations in September, the shipping companies locked out workers at 29 ports, accusing them of a slowdown.
West Coast ports handle more than $300 billion in trade each year. During the lockout, the American economy lost as much as $1 billion a day, according to some estimates.
For every day the ports were closed, the supply chain was backed up by one week, analysts said. Dozens of ships laden with cargo sat anchored off the coast, and hundreds of containers piled up on the docks.
Several companies, particularly those whose goods come from Asia, said the lockout has hurt. Gap Inc. said it would see decreased fourth-quarter earnings, and Toyota said it would lose more than $80 million because of delayed shipments of cars and parts. Railroad and trucking companies also reported lost revenue because of decreased shipments.
President Bush invoked a rarely used law forcing the docks to be opened 10 days after the lockout began in an effort to stave off the economic crisis.
Mr. Bush released a statement yesterday praising the both sides for working toward reaching a settlement.
"This agreement is good for workers, good for employers and good for America's economy," he said.
Technology upgrades were a major sticking point during negotiations. The shippers had pushed for computerized tracking systems that make some dockside work more efficiently.
Union members had opposed the new systems, fearing they would lead to job cuts. Under the agreement, cost-savings from technology upgrades will be used to fund pensions.
"We worked in good faith with PMA and succeeded in bringing new technology to our ports while achieving vital pension and economic security, strong health care benefits and safety protections for our workers and their families," said ILWU President James Spinosa.
Safety provisions were particularly important, Mr. Spinosa said. Five workers have died on the job this year.
The union previously had rejected contract proposals offering a 17 percent wage increase over five years. Longshoremen average annual salaries of about $100,000. Clerks who track cargo make about $120,000, and foremen make $157,000.
Mr. Bush was the first president since Jimmy Carter in 1978 to use the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 in an effort to end a labor dispute, and the first to use it during a lockout and not a strike. Under the act, a cooling-off period was put into effect until Dec. 27, after which the shipping companies could have closed the ports again.
The act had been used 11 times before, and disputes were resolved in nine of the cases.
During an air-traffic controllers' strike in 1981, President Reagan sidestepped the Taft-Hartley Act by firing the striking workers.


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