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Union, Shipping Lines to Resume Talks

Labor: West Coast ports experience minor work delays over the weekend as they enter one of the year's busiest periods.

September 23, 2002|From a Times Staff Writer

Minor work delays at three West Coast ports over the weekend were likely to set the tone for another tense week between dockworkers and their employers who are attempting to hammer out a labor contract during one of the busiest periods of the year for cargo shipments.

Negotiations between the workers' union and the group representing port operators and shippers were to resume today. The two sides met Friday and Saturday after a dockworker lockout was narrowly averted late last week. No discussions were held Sunday.

The Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents shipping lines and terminal operators, said that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union slowed work at Port Hueneme and Tacoma, Wash., sites on Saturday when it failed to send enough workers to cover shifts.

"We experienced three work actions this weekend," said shippers spokesman Steve Sugerman. "They didn't rise to the level of what happened last week in Long Beach, but they were notable."

The union denied intentionally causing any slowdowns.

"It's just so busy right now that we don't have enough people to cover all the jobs," said Steve Stallone, spokesman for the ILWU. "That's all that's going on."

West Coast ports, particularly Long Beach and Los Angeles, have entered one of the busiest periods of the year, as the nation's retailers stock up on imported goods for the Christmas shopping season. Long Beach and Los Angeles ports handle roughly 8 million cargo containers each year. The PMA also accused the union of vandalizing a facility in Portland, Ore., Friday when a crane operator hoisting steel crashed into a catwalk, damaging property.

"This is the result of the frustration of an individual member. This is not a work action," Stallone said.

Contract talks began four months ago and the key issue has been the introduction of new technology. The union maintains that such changes could threaten union jobs.

"We're looking for a guarantee that the remaining jobs and whatever new jobs created by the technology will be union jobs," Stallone said. "If they agreed, we could work out the rest of the contract without much difficulty."

Last week, the PMA threatened to lock out workers after shippers accused the union of intentionally causing delays and sending fewer workers than needed to fill shifts at the Stevedoring Services of America terminal in Long Beach.

The lockout was averted after the ILWU sent full crews to the SSA terminal.

The contract being negotiated covers 10,500 dockworkers from San Diego to Seattle. One UC Berkeley study estimated that a coast-wide shutdown would cost the U.S. economy $1 billion a day.

PMA's Sugerman said that as long as crews were dispatched equally among terminal operators, the association would not deem the shortage to be an orchestrated job action. However, he added that the PMA would consider a lockout again if it saw evidence of a slowdown.

The port's leading imports include such products as Asia-produced clothing, toys, shoes, handbags and consumer electronics.

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