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Local Dockworkers Return to Big Backlog

Port of Hueneme: Union says it was overwhelmed by the number of orders it received. Shifts of longshoremen were expected to work through the night.


Longshoremen returning to work Wednesday evening at the Port of Hueneme faced piles of work orders, as cargo shippers began to recover from the 10-day lockout that had stalled activity at ports along the West Coast.

Reactions to the reopening of the port and the ongoing labor dispute between the longshoremen and their employers, Pacific Maritime Assn., were mixed. Union members worried that an emergency order forcing them back to work could weaken the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's stance when bargaining resumes Wednesday in San Francisco, while management and shippers expressed relief that the order might ease the bottleneck at the Port of Hueneme.

Larry Carlton, president of Local 46, said the union was overwhelmed with the number of work orders it received Wednesday afternoon. A peak night shift could require 60 to 80 workers, but Carlton said he had received work orders for more than twice that many workers by the 3 p.m. deadline.

"We only have a certain number of people," he said. "We'll try to field as much as we can, but we won't be able to fill them all." He expected to have shifts working throughout the night.

Pacific Maritime Assn. locked out the longshoremen Sept. 29, saying the union members were intentionally slowing the movement of cargo. Union workers denied the accusations and said the delays were the result of heavier workloads and increased efforts to adhere to safety procedures.

Tuesday's court order specifies that ILWU members must resume work at a "normal and reasonable rate of speed." Carlton said union members have no intention of disrupting the work flow. "We'll work at our normal pace," he said.

While the lockout did not affect the Port of Hueneme to the degree it did ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles, economic analysts estimated it had cost Ventura County business millions of dollars.

Officials at Sunkist, one of the Port of Hueneme's leading exporters, estimated its growers were losing nearly $2 million each week they were unable to export their citrus crops. That figure could rise dramatically if growers are prevented from shipping during the navel orange season, which begins next month.

"We're delighted that we're going to be able to start exporting again soon," Sunkist spokeswoman Claire Smith said. "But we're still concerned that [the contract] is not settled. We'd like to see this thing over now and settled permanently."

Others said they hoped an 80-day cooling-off period would give the two sides time to reach a compromise, without continuing the lockout and further damaging the economy.

"We think that it's important, number one, for people to get back to work, and number two, for the economy to not be stalled," said Jim Kilpatrick, vice president of marketing and development for Pacific Vehicle Processors.

The company was prevented from unloading a shipment of import cars bound for a processing plant when the Port of Hueneme lockout began. Kilpatrick said the move forced the company to temporarily lay off some employees and divert a separate vehicle shipment to Tacoma, Wash.

"We've been slowed down significantly," he said. "And the dockworkers [here] have lost a lot of work because of it."

Not everyone cheered the decision to reopen the port.

Union supporters said they feared the court injunction would limit the ILWU's bargaining power and give the Pacific Maritime Assn. an edge in the labor dispute, which hinges on introduction of technology that could eliminate some union jobs.

"I think it's an anti-union situation, and it makes the playing field uneven," said Barry Hammitt, president of Service Employees International Union, Local 998, which represents wharf workers not included in the longshoremen's union.

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