[ OUR OPINION ]
HOSTILITY has intensified between dockworkers and West Coast port employers in recent weeks and threatens to strike a dangerous blow to America's economy, causing particularly severe damage to Hawaii. Management has accepted an offer by federal mediators to try to broker a deal, but the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has refused. The union's continued rejection of mediation should cause the White House to consider intervening.
ILWU should agree
to federal mediation
THE ISSUEShipping lines have ordered a lockout of West Coast ports, accusing dockworkers of engaging in a work slowdown.
The lockout declared by the shipping lines on Sunday has the potential of wreaking the level of havoc requiring a White House declaration of a national emergency. The Taft-Hartley Act's provision allowing the president to declare an 80-day cooling-off period was last used by President Carter in 1978. Because of that failure to end a national coal strike, President Bush may be reluctant to take similar action to keep the ports open, but such a measure should not be ruled out.
The effects of a prolonged work stoppage would devastate the already troubled American economy and be felt most heavily in Hawaii, which relies on West Coast ports for 90 percent of its goods. According to one study, closed Western ports would cost the national economy $1 billion a day, and the costs would rise exponentially. Another study estimates that a five-day shutdown would cost $4.7 billion in lost wages and other costs, while a 10-day shutdown would cost nearly $20 billion.
Disagreement over introduction of new technology has been the major impediment to an agreement since July 1, when the old contract expired, and Sept. 1, when contract extensions were halted. In exchange for the job cuts that would be caused by installation of scanners, sensors and remote cameras, the ILWU wants to expand its jurisdiction and set minimum staffing levels. That area of dispute should leave room for compromise.
The tactics by both sides that have paralyzed the West Coast docks are themselves a matter of debate. The second lockout in recent days was ordered by the Pacific Maritime Association, the shipping lines' organization, in retaliation for what it maintained were work slowdowns. The union insisted that cargo was moving slowly because of increased volume caused by the upcoming holiday season.
The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has called for both sides to "stand down their economic pressures" and resume normal schedules. However, the agency cannot impose its services on the two sides, and the ILWU has said it prefers to deal directly with the shipping lines. Its refusal raises the question of whether the union has decided its strategies can be more effective against management without the government's presence.
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