Longshoremen Farless Dailey and Jose Alcala picketed yesterday outside a Port of San Francisco terminal. West Coast ports weren't the only things shut down yesterday, as contract talks were called off between shipping lines and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union

Dock talks head
to mediation

Talks with mediator are expected
to focus on technology issues

Hawaii deal scuttled
Global fallout

By Justin Pritchard
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO >> Dockworkers and shipping lines began talks with a federal mediator this morning as the West Coast port shutdown, now in its fifth day, continued to stagger shipping-dependent industries across the country.

The stalemate has stopped all commercial shipping at 29 ports in California, Oregon and Washington.

"I think we all feel the pressure," Peter Hurtgen, the federal mediator responsible for rescuing a settlement from the bitter contract dispute that has closed the docks, said before negotiations began at a San Francisco hotel. "Every hour is another hour of economic harm."

Along the coast, 162 ships were either idle at the docks or have dropped anchor, waiting to unload cargo, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the shipping lines. Another 13 were due to arrive by tomorrow morning.

The impact of the work stoppage was accelerating and could be costing the U.S. economy $2 billion a day, said Robert Parry, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

"With the economy suffering like this, it's just time to put people back to work," Jim Spinosa, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said today before talks began. "We've agreed to give mediation a try. This is a good move to get the waterfront open again."

Today's session was expected to focus on new dockside technology, Hurtgen said. It's the main sticking point that led to a meltdown in talks last week and the subsequent lockout of the 10,500-member union.

Longshoreman Lawrence Prince protested in front of a Port of San Francisco terminal yesterday. As of yesterday, 80 ships were stuck at berths or at anchor outside West Coast ports

Longshoremen have said they can accept short-term job losses from the increased efficiency that computerized cargo tracking systems will bring, but want guarantees that new technology-related positions be union-covered. Shipping lines have said trade increases will more than offset job losses, but the union shouldn't have jurisdiction over every new job.

Hurtgen said he plans to stay in San Francisco until he brokers a resolution -- or until talks fall apart, again.

The standoff's growing economic impact has led to mounting calls for President Bush to intervene under the Taft-Hartley Act. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was among the lawmakers saying Bush should order the ports reopened for an 80-day "cooling-off" period.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said today the U.S. economy is at risk. "The administration continues to urge labor and management to come together to get an agreement because the longer this goes, the more harm it will do to the economy," he said.

The lockout hit the transportation and manufacturing sectors first, and is now causing increasing concern in the U.S. grain industry, as evidenced today by a sharp drop in wheat futures. With railroads already having stopped grain shipments to the coast, talk was increasing of an adverse impact on U.S. exports.

In Fremont, the only major vehicle production line west of the Mississippi ground to a halt last night. New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. shut down as the supply of auto parts dried up and engines, transmissions and vehicle frames sat idle in cargo holds at the Port of Oakland.

About 5,500 workers, including 4,400 hourly workers represented by the UAW, assemble General Motors and Toyota cars and trucks.

Elsewhere across the country, the economic ripple effects spread. California almond growers, who are in their main season for overseas sales, said the port shutdown threatens their Asian markets.



>> A General Motors and Toyota venture that produces about 1,500 vehicles a day and employs 5,500 suspended production today as it exhausted its parts supply.

>> Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Bush should order the ports reopened and impose an 80-day cooling off period.

>> A group of Asian shippers will decide as early as today whether to delay ship departures to West Coast ports

>> Robert Parry, a Federal Reserve Bank president, said the lockout could be costing the U.S. economy $2 billion a day.

Pacific Maritime Association

International Longshore and Warehouse Union

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