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No Sanctions on Port Slowdowns

Justice Department says additional factors, including congestion in terminal yards, contributed to the drop in productivity.

November 14, 2002|Nancy Cleeland | Times Staff Writer

The Justice Department said Wednesday that it will not pursue contempt penalties against the dockworkers union or shipping companies for contributing to slowdowns in violation of a court order to keep West Coast ports moving normally.

The statement was filed with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco on the eve of a status conference today involving the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Assn, which represents shipping lines and terminal operators.

Both sides are working under an Oct. 8 federal injunction that reopened ports after a 10-day lockout. Mediated contract negotiations resumed Wednesday morning and were set to continue today.

Justice Department attorneys said they had "credible evidence" that the union and shipping group both contributed to drops in productivity. They cited the union's mandate that members adhere strictly to safety rules and refuse overtime. They also cited severe congestion in terminal yards, which was exacerbated by the decision of some shipping lines to drop all containers from a vessel at one port rather than making multiple stops along the coast.

"The United States is not able to determine at this time that either party has engaged in improper conduct of sufficient scope or effect as to warrant a recommendation [that] this court impose a penalty for contempt of the order," the Justice Department said in the filing.

The PMA filed briefs with the department last month alleging that the union had engaged in a "concerted, systematic slowdown" that cut productivity by as much as 34%.

The union in turn claimed that the PMA violated the injunction by failing to work cooperatively with the union to address operational problems caused by congestion.

The Justice Department statement noted that with the help of a federal mediator, negotiators for the union and shipping group have made progress in recent weeks. On Nov. 1, the mediator announced a breakthrough agreement on the implementation of labor-saving technology, which has been the stickiest issue in the talks.

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