Thursday, October 10, 2002

Huge backlog greets dockworkers

West Coast ports reopened under court order

By The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - West Coast dockworkers returned to their jobs under court order Wednesday and were greeted with a huge backlog of cargo that had built up over 10 days of a labor lockout.

“It's been very hard. We're just glad to be back at work,” said Karen Korbich, a dockworker for the past nine years. “We expect it to be very congested.”

Dockworkers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach held a rally before returning to their jobs. They were joined by civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who helped lead cheers of “We want to work!”

The cargo backlog could take more than two months to clear.

“Simply put, it's more complicated to fix something than to break it,” said John Pachtner, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping companies and terminals.

The 10,500 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union reported at hiring halls to work 6 p.m. shifts, ending a lockout that shut down 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle and cost the nation's fragile economy up to $2 billion a day by holding up exports and imports.

Dock laborers were expected to work around the clock, with other shifts beginning at 3 a.m. and 8 a.m., officials said.

President Bush intervened Tuesday, obtaining an injunction to end the shutdown.

Among the first cargo to be shipped will be perishables such as seafood, meat and produce in refrigerated containers aboard some of the more than 200 ships anchored off the coast.

The critical challenges will be lining up transportation on trucks, trains and planes, and finding enough longshoremen, Mr. Pachtner said.

The lockout began after the maritime association accused union members of an illegal slowdown during contract talks. The dispute centers on the use of new waterfront technology that the union believes would eliminate jobs.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bush became the first president in a quarter-century to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which allows a president to ask a federal court to stop a strike or lockout that imperils the nation's health and safety. A federal judge in San Francisco issued the injunction.

“The union is very happy to be returning to work today, but we are not happy with the presidential orders,” said Ramon Ponce De Leon Jr., president of ILWU, Local 13, in Los Angeles.

He said that workers are “frustrated and disappointed.”

The maritime association said employers would be looking for hundreds of additional workers. But even if all available workers labored at record pace, it could take up to 10 weeks to clear the backlog, association president Joseph Miniace said.

Union Pacific, the nation's largest railroad, sent extra cars to West Coast ports and opened a 24-hour “war room” in its dispatch center to give priority to eastbound shipments.

Manufacturers hoped to get parts in time to avoid layoffs and shutdowns.

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