- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) West Coast dockworkers headed back to work under court order yesterday, facing a huge backlog of cargo that built up over 10 days but could take more than two months to clear.
"Simply put, it's more complicated to fix something than to break it," said John Pachtner, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping companies and terminal operators.
The 10,500 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union were expected to begin reporting to work yesterday evening, ending a lockout that shut down 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle and cost the nation's fragile economy up to $2 billion a day by holding up exports and imports.
President Bush intervened Tuesday, obtaining an injunction to end the shutdown.
Among the first cargo to be shipped will be perishables like seafood, meat and produce in refrigerated containers aboard some of the more than 200 ships anchored off the coast. After that, shipping companies will set their own priorities based on their customers' needs and demand for cargo.
The critical challenges will be lining up transportation on trucks, trains and planes, and finding enough longshoremen for what could be round-the-clock work, Mr. Pachtner said.
"We need the ILWU to provide as many able-bodied people as possible who are fully productive," he said. "That's what will unclog the pipeline as soon as possible."
The lockout began after the maritime association accused union members of an illegal slowdown during contract talks. The dispute centers on the use of new waterfront technology that the union believes would eliminate jobs.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bush became the first president in a quarter-century to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which allows a president to ask a federal court to stop a strike or lockout that imperils the nation's health and safety.
Dockworkers said they would go back to work, though many were unhappy about it and cited safety concerns, given the pressure to move items quickly.
The maritime association said employers would be looking for hundreds of additional workers. But even if all available workers labored at record pace, it could take up to 10 weeks to clear the backlog, association President Joseph Miniace said.
Union Pacific, the nation's largest railroad, sent extra cars to West Coast ports and opened a 24-hour "war room" in its dispatch center to give priority to eastbound shipments. Manufacturers hoped to get parts in time to avoid layoffs.
"As soon as the [port] gates open, we think we can resume truck production by Friday morning," said Michael Damer, a spokesman for New United Motor Manufacturing in Fremont, Calif.
However, Honda Motor Co. said it will suspend production at two U.S. auto plants today because of the port shutdown.
The company doesn't know when production will resume.
Mitsubishi Motors Corp. yesterday canceled production at its sole North American plant in Normal, Ill.
Some truckers said they would wait until the docks were working again before deciding how to proceed. "A lot of drivers aren't going to go because it will be backed up," said Stephanie Williams of the California Trucking Association.
The truckers are a key link in the transportation chain because they haul cargo between the waterfront and inland storage points.

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