Dock agreement reached

The tentative contract must
be ratified by a majority
of ILWU members

Star-Bulletin news services

WASHINGTON >> West Coast dockworkers and shipping companies reached a tentative six-year contract agreement early today, potentially ending a long, caustic labor dispute that closed the ports and prompted presidential intervention.

Chief federal mediator Peter Hurtgen praised both sides, saying lead negotiators in San Francisco "demonstrated statesmenlike leadership, which made this agreement possible."

Hurtgen, head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, would not offer details of the tentative agreement, but characterized it as "historic."

Hurtgen said the tentative agreement provides "substantial improvements in wages and benefits for union members and also provides the necessary technology and dispute-resolution improvements needed to ensure that America's West Coast ports continue to modernize and increase both efficiency and productivity."

The agreement still must be ratified by a majority of the 10,500 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in a vote.

"It's been so emotional for such a long time," said Joseph Miniace, president of the Pacific Maritime Association in an interview from his office. He said he had slept six hours in the last four days. "It was a big stool, and all the legs fit together."

He handed the phone to Jim Spinosa, union president, who said that the exhausting push had led to an agreement that the union leadership fully supported.

"I'm just glad that it's over, to be honest with you," Spinosa said. "You look to the future, and there's just a lot of work."

Spinosa said that a caucus of about 100 rank-and-file members from across the West Coast would meet Dec. 9 to "validate and ratify" the agreement. They would then fan out to local hiring halls in 29 major Pacific ports and urge their colleagues to approve the deal.

President George Bush said today he was pleased an agreement had been reached between longshoremen and port employers on the West Coast.

"I am very pleased that labor and management have reached an agreement concerning the West Coast ports," Bush said in a statement released by the White House. "This agreement is good for workers, good for employers and it's good for America's economy," he said. "I congratulate labor and management for working together to successfully resolve their disagreement."

The agreement comes at a critical time for the U.S. economy because the docks handle about $300 billion worth of goods each year and any port disruptions ripple through world financial markets.

A lockout by The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the shipping companies, in September and October paralyzed billions of dollars worth of U.S. trade and forced the Bush administration to invoke the little-used 1947 Taft-Hartley Act on Oct. 9 to get the ports back in business.

The lockout began after shipping companies accused the union of an illegal work slowdown during contract negotiations.

The ports handle more than $300 billion in trade each year. Some economists estimated that the U.S. economy lost $1 billion each day as cargo piled up at the docks and ships waited at anchor offshore. Some factories shut down for lack of supplies.

Bush was the first president in 24 years to invoke the emergency provision of the Taft-Hartley Act in an attempt to halt a labor dispute. He also was the first president in history to use the act to stop a lockout, not a strike.

Taft-Hartley has been invoked 11 times in port disputes in the past, of which only nine were successfully resolved.

In this dispute, the union's contract ended in July. Sticking points had centered on shipping companies' desire for computerized cargo tracking systems that will make dockside work more efficient, but also cost jobs. The union in return wanted increased compensation and pension benefits.

Pacific Maritime Association

International Longshore and Warehouse Union

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