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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

West Coast Ports Are Expected to Reopen Wednesday

L By Marla Dickerson, Joseph Menn and Peter Gosselin

lOS ANGELES – West Coast ports are expected to reopen Wednesday after a federal court on Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order forcing an end to a management lockout that has bottled up ports from San Diego to Seattle and inflicted billions of dollars in economic damage on an already shaky economy.

President Bush requested the emergency court order Tuesday after a White House panel informed him “seeds of distrust” had so poisoned relations between shipping lines and dockworkers that the two sides were unlikely to reach an agreement on their own.

“The crisis in our Western ports is hurting the economy; it is hurting the security of our country, and the federal government must act,” Bush said in a brief statement outside of the West Wing of the White House. “This nation simply cannot afford to have hundreds of billions of dollars in manufacturing and agricultural trade sitting idle.”

The Justice Department’s petition to obtain the emergency court order included testimony from five Cabinet members, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who said a continued shutdown of the West Coast 29 ports would “adversely affect” the ability to move supplies overseas in the event of war and jeopardize the global fight against terrorism.

San Francisco U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, who issued Tuesday’s order, said the government’s arguments were “very compelling.”

“The docks are rotting with perishables,” Alsup said. He set a hearing for next week to determine whether the temporary restraining order should be converted to a preliminary injunction, setting the stage for an 80-day cooling-off period for management and the 10,500-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union to restart their stalled negotiations.

Business leaders reacted enthusiastically to word that the ports will be reopening soon.

“This is great news,” said Robin Lanier, director of the West Coast Waterfront Coalition, which represents about 50 companies, including retailers, and manufacturers depending on waterborne trade. “But the question now is what are the logistics of getting the enormous backlog unstuck?”

Bush’s politically sensitive move, coming only five weeks before congressional midterm elections, makes him the first president in nearly a quarter-century to intervene in a labor dispute using the Taft-Hartley Act. That 1947 legislation allows the president to use the power of the courts to temporarily end work stoppages that “imperil the national health and safety.”

The temporary restraining order paves the way for reopening of the docks, most likely by Wednesday evening, according to Steve Sugerman, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines and terminal operators.

The shipping group locked out union workers Sept. 29 following a series of disruptions that slowed the movement of cargo. Union members said they were simply “working safely” following five West Coast dockworker deaths this year.

As the ports reopen, the prospect for continued disruptions loomed large. Union spokesman Steve Stallone said after the court ruling that employees would continue to “work safely” and follow the contract terms closely.

Stallone acknowledged that the Maritime Association probably would accuse the union of a slowdown, using productivity comparisons from months ago, that could result in court sanctions against the union. Stallone said those comparisons are unfair because the current gridlock will make it difficult to work at anything resembling a normal pace.

“They are going to be trying to financially break this union with fines and throw our leaders in jail,” Stallone said. “It’s going to cost us a bundle to defend ourselves.”

Under the court order, the ILWU members must return to work the docks in a “normal and reasonable rate of speed.” But the document also says union members are bound only by the terms of the original contract, apparently giving the union leeway to argue that working to the letter of the contract language is permitted.

The PMA’s Sugerman would not speculate on what the management group would do in the event of a union slowdown. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” he said. But association President Joseph Miniace previously said the shipping group is prepared to present productivity records in court if the work pace slows.

The court order followed a last-ditch effort by Bush administration officials to avoid using Taft-Hartley by asking both sides to agree to an unconditional 30-day extension of the expired labor contract.

It has been estimated that it will take four to six weeks to clear the enormous backlog of cargo that has accumulated at all 29 West Coast ports since the lockout began. More than 200 cargo ships are waiting to be unloaded from San Diego to Seattle, with about 120 in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

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