- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2002

President Bush took the first step yesterday to halt a West Coast ports shutdown, invoking a federal law that gives him authority to halt the work stoppage as soon as today. It was the first time since 1978 that a president has used the Taft-Hartley Act.
The shippers' lockout of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), now in its second week, is causing billions of dollars in damage to the nation's economy while outgoing cargo piles up, produce rots and about 200 ships offshore wait to dock.
Under the Taft-Hartley Act, the president appointed a board of inquiry to quickly assess the extent of the damage caused by a labor dispute and the progress of contract negotiations.
"A continuation of this lockout, if permitted to continue, will imperil the national health and safety," President Bush said in an executive order creating the three-person panel.
If the board's report due today indicates significant damage to the economy, Mr. Bush can ask a federal judge to order both parties back to work. Meanwhile, an 80-day cooling-off period takes effect, during which federal mediators would try to resolve the dispute.
If the 80 days expire without resolving the dispute, the union and management can resort to job actions that include lockouts or strikes.
However, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill said he doubted Mr. Bush would allow the labor dispute to continue much longer.
The president "is not going to let this crunch the U.S. economy," he said yesterday.
Port management and shippers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) locked out 10,500 unionized longshoremen at 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle on Sept. 29. Their labor contract with the ILWU expired July 1.
Management wants to introduce technologies to automate many port operations, which would make some manual jobs obsolete. Union negotiators want bigger pensions, no layoffs and unionization of any workers who would operate the new technologies.
Longshoremen average annual salaries of nearly $100,000. Clerks who track cargo make about $120,000. Foremen make about $157,000.
The presidentially appointed board is headed by former Sen. Bill Brock and includes law professors Patrick Hardin and Dennis Nolan.
"The country has been patient but now ordinary Americans are being seriously harmed by this dispute," said Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao.
Factory workers have been laid off because parts have not been delivered.
"These layoffs will only increase if the ports do not reopen this week," Mrs. Chao said.
She also expressed national-security concerns about interruptions of military shipments, some of which are sent by defense contractors through West Coast ports.
"Any disruption in the flow of these military shipments could significantly impact the Defense Department's ability to support our men and women in harm's way," Mrs. Chao said.
The dispute is stopping shipments to retailers as they prepare for the Christmas shopping season. For each day the ports are shut down, the supply chain gets backed up by one week, say industry analysts. Even if the lockout ends this week, retailers are expecting shortages for two to three months.
The fight is increasing costs and lowering profits for retailers, Prudential Financial analyst Stacy Pak told Bloomberg News.
The Gap, based in San Francisco, will have to spend $32 million more to ship apparel by air instead of ocean, Miss Pak said in reducing her fourth-quarter earnings estimate to 4 cents a share from 11 cents.
Railroads and trucking companies that depend heavily on ports have closed West Coast operations.
Union Pacific Corp. Chief Executive Officer Richard Davidson said the dispute is costing the largest U.S. railroad $4 million to $5 million a day in lost shipments.
Sunkist Growers Inc. said it is losing about $2.1 million a week in exports. About 3,600 tons of citrus, mostly oranges, are sitting on docks, said spokesman Mike Wootton.
President Bush at first asked management and the union to resolve the dispute themselves, but intervened after talks broke down Sunday.
The president risks alienating organized labor only weeks before the Nov. 5 election, but is also trying to shore up his record on helping the lagging economy, according to analysts.
"Family farmers and ranchers are being devastated by this shutdown," said Mrs. Chao. "Millions if not billions of dollars of American produce, meat and poultry are rotting in containers on the docks and on idled trucks and rail cars."
The White House estimates damage to the economy at around $1 billion per day. Other economists place the daily damage closer to $2 billion.
The PMA and longshoremen have continued shipments for Alaska, Hawaii or Guam, whose economies depend more heavily on imports and exports than the rest of the United States.
The Taft-Hartley Act was last invoked in 1978, when President Carter tried unsuccessfully to break up a coal miners' strike. A federal court refused to grant an injunction to force them back to work.
President Reagan sidestepped the need to invoke Taft-Hartley authority during a 1981 air-traffic controllers' strike by firing all the striking workers.
Presidents have won injunctions 29 of the 31 times they have invoked Taft-Hartley authority since the law was enacted in 1947, all of them to stop strikes.
Eleven of those strikes shut down coastal ports. Only three were resolved during the cooling-off period.
If the dispute is not settled in 60 days, federal mediators can organize a secret ballot among workers on whether to accept management's offer. If they reject it, the lockout can resume after the 80-day period.
"It is clear from PMA's latest proposal that they never had any intention of making an agreement," said ILWU President James Spinosa. "Their strategy has been all along to use the lockout to push this situation to crisis and get the government to bail them out with the Taft-Hartley injunction."
The shippers accuse the longshoremen of making unreasonable demands for wages, benefits and job security.
For example, some work done by hand could be done better by computers, the PMA says.
"Our ports are falling further and further behind our counterparts around the world," said PMA President Joseph Miniace. "In some cases, we are still using chalk to track containers at a time when bar-code scanners, like the ones you see at the corner grocery store, could track them far more quickly and efficiently."

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