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Port Mediators to Tour Sites in L.A., Long Beach

Walk-throughs to give a better understanding of the issues, equipment involved in the contract negotiations could begin as early as today.

October 21, 2002|Bonnie Harris | Times Staff Writer

Federal mediators may begin touring terminals in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as early as today, the latest effort in settling a labor dispute between West Coast dockworkers and their employers.

Spokesmen for both sides said Sunday that the tours probably would be conducted separately, so that mediators would have a better understanding of the issues and equipment involved in the contract negotiations. The mediators are expected to complete the walk-throughs before calling both sides back to the bargaining table this week.

Ports from San Diego to Seattle are open under an 80-day federal injunction after the Pacific Maritime Assn.'s lockout froze transpacific trade for 10 days.

But more than 200 container vessels remain backed up along the coast, and International Longshore and Warehouse Union spokesman Steve Stallone said little progress has been made in reducing the logjam since ports reopened Oct. 9. He cited a shortage of empty containers and truck trailers as one example of the chaos.

"It's incredibly congested out there," Stallone said, noting that trucks still are arriving at terminal gates with containers that should have been shipped out weeks ago on vessels that are no longer there.

"I don't think we've made much of a dent in the backlog at all."

As a result, Stallone said, many dockworkers expect the PMA, which is representing the cargo carriers and terminal operators, to take court action this week, accusing them of orchestrating a slowdown.

PMA spokesman Steve Sugerman said he doubted that such action would occur this week but declined to elaborate. The shipping group could present evidence of a slowdown to the U.S. attorney's office, which could then seek sanctions against the union and its leaders, including fines or jail sentences.

"We have not made any new progress, and we don't know what the next day or week holds," Sugerman said. "It'd be inappropriate for me to speculate at this time."

The sides have been in talks for five months, unable to agree on how to introduce job-cutting technology at the terminals.

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