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LA TIMES on ILWU with short update

by NANCY CLEELAND, TIMES STAFF WRITER Saturday, Sep. 21, 2002 at 7:13 AM

Below is yesterday's LA times on ILWU possible lockout by the bosses. NYT reports today the lockout is averted

Ports Bracing for a Shutdown

Labor: Tensions escalate as the union is accused of slowdowns and shipping lines

threaten a lockout. Retailers fear a disruption in their holiday season.

By NANCY CLEELAND, TIMES STAFF WRITER

Retailers and manufacturers braced Wednesday for the possible

closure of West Coast ports after union slowdowns were

reported in Long Beach and Oakland and major shipping lines

warned they were prepared to lock out workers.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union denied that

it orchestrated work stoppages and said the shipping lines,

which have been in difficult contract negotiations with the union

for four months, were exaggerating staffing problems to set up a

confrontation.

"There is so much work that there aren't enough people for the

jobs," ILWU spokesman Steve Stallone said of the union's

failure to provide full work crews at the Long Beach terminal of

Stevedoring Services of America on Wednesday morning. "But if

they want to lock us out and actually cause a crisis, go ahead.

Bring it on."

Later Wednesday, 19 union members failed to return to work

after lunch at an Oakland terminal operated by Maersk Sealand.

The workers were key members of a crew unloading a CSX

Lines container ship, and their action prevented the ship from

being unloaded and leaving port on schedule.

Stallone said the workers were protesting a scheduling change that prevented them from attending a

union rally.

A slowdown also was reported Monday at the SSA terminal in Long Beach, grounding all rail

operations.

Members of the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents major shipping lines, will be in

communication today to consider their options, said association President Joseph Miniace.

Miniace said the PMA board Wednesday unanimously authorized him to "take defensive action"

against slowdowns, which would include locking out workers.

"The union is playing with fire and appears to be willing to jeopardize America's economic

interests by initiating hit-and-run tactics," he said.

The PMA warned the union before contract talks began May 13 that it would not tolerate work

slowdowns, which it said the union had staged at critical times during contract talks in the 1990s.

The union and the PMA each appeared to be building a case to blame the other in the event of port

closures. When asked at what point he would call for a lockout, Miniace said, "When we're

satisfied that they understand the consequences of their actions and they blatantly continue.... It's

going to be known that it's the union provoking us."

The escalating conflict between dockworkers and shipping lines comes during the peak holiday

shipping season, when transpacific shipping lines are running at full capacity and retailers are eager

to stock their shelves. The 29 ports along the coast handle 0 billion in imports and exports

annually and represent about 7% of the nation's gross national product.

The action in Long Beach stranded a China Ocean Shipping Co. ship holding 3,000 containers

destined for customers throughout the West.

"Millions of dollars in merchandise is impacted," said Andy McLauchlan, a vice president at

Seattle-based SSA, which operates the terminal. The delay also could disrupt the shipping giant's

schedule for weeks, he said.

SSA has been the target of demonstrations this week by the union, which says SSA has taken a

hard line during negotiations and is holding up an agreement. The SSA and several other PMA

members denied there was a split, and that all members are insisting on greater productivity and

efficiency at the ports.

For retailers, any disruption in cargo traffic could not come at a worse time.

"My members are going to be very upset," said Robin Lanier, executive director of the West Coast

Waterfront Coalition, which represents major retailers and manufacturers that use the ports. "This

is a strike without declaration."

Lanier said she would meet with coalition members today and urge them to "use back channels" to

ask union-friendly political leaders to intervene with the union.

Negotiations between the PMA and the union continued through the day's drama, with a

subcommittee meeting on the difficult issue of introducing labor-saving technology. The union has

said it would accept job losses associated with new technology, such as optical scanning

equipment that eliminates some clerical jobs, but wants the shipping lines to move some nonunion

planning jobs into union jurisdiction. The association has refused.

In the event of a strike, the Bush administration has indicated that it probably would declare a

national emergency and invoke the Taft-Hartley Act, which would delay a strike for 80 days.

At a Los Angeles appearance Wednesday, U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao told Reuters that she

hoped "it will not come to that" and that the two sides could come to terms.

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