Bush Moves Toward Ending Lockout of West Coast Dock Workers

The West Coast port shutdown may be nearing an end.

After talks failed between workers and shipping lines, President Bush issued an executive order yesterday convening a three-member board of inquiry under the Taft-Hartley Act to examine the work stoppage at the West Coast ports. The order requires the board to report to Bush no later than today.

The shutdown reportedly is taking up to $2 billion daily out of the nation's economy. The order states that “a continuation of this lockout will imperil the national health and safety.”

After Bush receives the board's report, he may instruct the attorney general to seek a court injunction to end the stoppage. If the court issues an injunction, an 80-day clock starts, the ports would open and employees would return to work. If no agreement is reached after 60 days, the board is required to issue the president an update on the situation.

The Associated Press reported that the Pacific Maritime Association has locked out 10,500 members of the longshoremen's union, claiming they initiated a slowdown. Negotiations collapsed in San Francisco late Sunday night after the union rejected the latest contract proposal. The lockout began its second week yesterday as cargo vessels stranded at West Coast docks or backing up at anchor points rose to 200. Dozens more were en route from Asia.

Reuters reported yesterday that PMA president Joseph Miniace said “it could still take seven weeks to clear the backlog of billions of dollars worth of cargo stranded by the lockout.”

Reuters also reported that the sides are split by management's plan to implement bar code readers to make the ports more efficient. The union has stated that such upgrades could cost jobs, and it wants union membership for any new jobs created by automation.

The union's last collective bargaining agreement expired July 1. Union leaders determined last month not to extend the contract on the day-by-day basis that kept the ports open during the summer.

In a related development, Amazon.com Inc.'s Jeff Bezos said the issue was “not a cause for concern.” He does not share the concern raised by Salomon Smith Barney that fourth-quarter earnings could be affected.

“I have no idea how they arrive at that,” Reuters quoted Bezos as saying. “I am not concerned. Our reliance on bulk shipments is much lower than for other companies in the industry. There are 10 other things that will have more of an impact than that.”

The only product category that might be affected is electronic goods, which could be moved by air freight, he said.

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