- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

From combined dispatches
An auto plant shared by Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Corp., is suspending production because of parts shortages caused by the closure of West Coast ports.
New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., California's sole auto plant, halted production at 6 p.m. yesterday, and stopped making passenger cars at midnight, one hour before the shift typically ends, plant spokesman Michael Damer said. The plant won't reopen for production today or tomorrow unless the closure ends.
NUMMI's 5,100 workers build about 1,500 vehicles a day, including 600 Toyota Tacoma pickups and 900 Toyota Corolla and Pontiac Vibe small cars, as well as a version of the Vibe exported to Japan as the Toyota Voltz.
A wide range of industries are beginning to feel squeezed by the shutdown of the 29 ports, which handled more than $320 billion worth of imports and exports in 2001. Among them are automakers, which rely almost exclusively on container ships to transport large parts.
The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping companies and terminal operators, locked out about 10,500 dockworkers at all West Coast ports Sunday, saying workers had engaged in an illegal slowdown.
Talks scheduled for yesterday were canceled after a federal mediation session fell apart Tuesday. Union representatives stormed out, complaining that their employers showed up with armed security guards. Overall, 125 vessels carrying a half-million containers were waiting to come into port yesterday.
President Bush came under mounting pressure to intervene.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said Mr. Bush should order the ports reopened and impose an 80-day cooling-off period. And the West Coast Waterfront Coalition, which represents retailers and transportation companies, urged the president to take whatever steps are necessary to reopen the ports.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer would not speculate on whether Mr. Bush would order an end to the lockout. "The administration continues to urge labor and management to come together to get an agreement because the longer this goes, the more harm it will do to the economy," he said.
Home Depot said it would be affected in as soon as two weeks, with shipments to stores disrupted several weeks later. The home-improvement chain may need to start Christmas shipping through East Coast ports in coming weeks. Pier 1 Imports Inc. gets as much as 65 percent of its merchandise from Asia, and said it may need to use other ports without a settlement within weeks.
"It will take two to three weeks to unscramble this" once cargo starts flowing, said Lazard Freres transportation analyst James Winchester. He based his estimate on ships already delayed on the West Coast, future shipping schedules and cargo piled several containers high.
The Vancouver Port Authority, which oversees operations at the Canadian west coast port, won't accept cargo diverted from the United States because its first responsibility is to serve existing customers, a spokeswoman said.
Many of the biggest container vessels are too wide to go through the Panama Canal, so they cannot use that option to reach ports on the East Coast. Shipping by air was too costly for much of the relatively low-valued merchandise sent through Hong Kong and Chinese ports.
Thousands of independent truckers, unable to unload their cargo for days, are waiting at transfer stations and hoping their money lasts longer than the shutdown at the nation's West Coast ports.
"I'm going to have to start figuring out ways to make some money soon," said Jorge Ramirez, 41, a short-haul trucker with a wife and four young children. "It's better to be your own boss, but right now there is no dinero. My wife is worried, I'm worried."
Some of the lockout's swiftest and sharpest economic blows have fallen on the thousands of independent truckers who usually spend 10 or more hours a day shuttling tons of cargo between the ports and transfer stations. But the longshoremen are unable to load or unload any cargo.
In Southern California alone, more than 12,000 rigs operated by those short-haul drivers and small companies were parked at cargo-transfer stations yesterday. Fearful of run-ins with picketing longshoremen, the truckers avoided the docks.
The lockout is particularly damaging to independent truckers because they need to keep up with truck payments, insurance bills and other expenses even when their income is shut off. Bankruptcies are common even in normal times for the drivers, many of whom are immigrants who earn between $850 and $1,250 a week.
Some Asian shippers, with containers of Christmas toys stacked high on the piers, said they also were beginning to feel the pinch from the shutdown.
Exporters of toys and textiles depend heavily on the U.S. market and are facing a holiday season rush. So the timing of the shutdown has them particularly worried, and some already are reporting stranded shipments.
"This is not only affecting West Coast ports, it's having a chain effect," said Sunny Ho Lap-kee, executive director of the Hong Kong Shippers Council. "This could result in a disaster. If there's no sign of a compromise it will affect the whole global economy."
Container shipping is a bread-and-butter business for Hong Kong, the world's largest container port, and a protracted shutdown could ripple throughout the regional economy hurting manufacturing, transport and other related industries.
Hong Kong's port authorities had no immediate comment on the shutdown.
Singapore officials reported no noticeable effect. Malaysian port authorities said they had not yet noted problems.
Mr. Ho, whose organization represents importers and exporters and industry associations, said that although a weeklong national holiday in mainland China had blunted the initial shock, shippers were already noting signs of a shortage of empty containers.

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