- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) A second week of a West Coast port shutdown will cause a noticeable increase in plant closings, job losses and financial market turmoil, say analysts and business leaders who are increasingly skeptical of a quick end to the labor dispute.
Storage facilities at beef, pork and poultry processing facilities across the country already are crammed with produce that can't be exported.
With nowhere to move their product, plant operators will begin shutting down today and layoffs will follow, said Mary Kay Thatcher, public-policy director of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
In less than two weeks, if the shutdown continues, manufacturing plants may be grinding to a halt all over the country, farmers could be indignant, and Asian equity and currency markets will face a full-blown crisis, said Steven Cohen, a regional planning professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
"It's like draining a swamp. You start seeing all kinds of ugly creatures," he said.
Talks between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents shipping lines and terminal operators, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) entered a fourth day yesterday.
Negotiators were meeting in separate rooms in a hotel in San Francisco's Chinatown, with a federal mediator shuttling between them.
"I think this will be a very long day, and a significant day," said PMA spokesman Steve Sugerman.
He said the PMA would keep pushing for an extension of the old contract, which specifically forbids the kind of work slowdowns the PMA said prompted the shutdown Sept. 29.
The union has refused, holding out for a new three-year contract that would give it control over any jobs that come with the new technology.
Implementing labor-saving technology like electronic tracking devices puts only a small number of jobs at risk in the short term, but future jobs are at stake, as well as control of the flow of information at the ports.
The PMA has always given the ILWU jurisdiction over new technology in the past, union negotiator Joseph Wenzl said.
"The union feels we have offered a proposal that meets the employer in the middle," he said.
Both sides have agreed to resume shipping essential items to Alaska and Hawaii.
They also have moved some cargo for the U.S. military, but there will be no more exceptions to the shutdown, Mr. Sugerman said.
The number of cargo vessels stranded at the docks or backing up at anchor points has risen to about 200 since the lockout, with dozens more still en route from Asia.
According to American Farm Bureau Federation figures, between 20 percent and 30 percent of all U.S. agriculture products are exported, and a third of that goes to the Pacific Rim, mostly through the West Coast ports.
A growing number of industry groups are calling for White House intervention, including use of the Taft-Hartley Act, which would force an 80-day cooling off period. President Bush hasn't said whether he will intervene.
Mr. Wenzl says the PMA's strategy is to encourage White House involvement to pressure the union, which has made the negotiations more difficult.
"That's not collective bargaining," he said.
For Steve Dunn, founder and president of Munchkin Inc., an importer of infant goods, said an end to the port shutdown can't come soon enough.
He already sent home nearly a fourth of his staff and expects to close in two weeks if the ports aren't reopened.
The Van Nuys, Calif., company imports 95 percent of its goods from China, including infant utensils, spill-proof cups and rubber ducks. One-third of its inventory is stranded offshore.
Munchkin plans to use air freight this week to avoid short-shipping key customers, but the cost is too high to continue for more than a few days, Mr. Dunn said.
Like many observers, he expects Mr. Bush to refrain from ordering an end to the lockout until the crisis worsens.
"If there's more of a crisis, then he's more of a savior," Mr. Dunn said.
Dockworkers and their employers, meanwhile, have the financial resources to continue their five-month labor dispute, said Mr. Cohen, who has studied the economic impact of a port closure for the shippers' association.
"Both sides can sit there absorbing punishments," he said. "They can easily take a month before they die. We can't."


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