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Labor dispute shuts down ports

From Casey Wian, CNN New York Bureau

Cargo ships docked in Los Angeles Harbor
Cargo ships docked in Los Angeles Harbor

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The Pacific Maritime Association has reinstated its lockout of workers at all 29 West Coast ports because of a labor dispute with union workers (September 30)
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LONG BEACH, California (CNN) -- The Pacific Maritime Association said Sunday it had reinstated its lockout of workers at all 29 West Coast ports at least until Monday because of a labor dispute with union workers.

The association blamed the lockout on a work slowdown by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The PMA said the union did not dispatch enough work crews to the ports and that those crews were working at reduced speeds.

"This union has effectively decided to shut down the ports on the West Coast," said Tom Edwards, a negotiator for the association. He said crane workers were working at one-tenth their normal rate.

The ports closed Friday night. PMA representatives had said the lockout would end Sunday morning.

At least six container ships were forced to idle Saturday in the harbor near Long Beach, unable to offload their cargo.

The PMA, an organization of international shipping companies that carry $300 billion worth of cargo through West Coast ports each year, has been in negotiations with the ILWU for nearly five months. The union represents some 10,500 workers at the nation's ports.

"Shutting it down for a period of time allows us to assess where we are in our yards, make plans and go back to work in a manner that will keep the ports running efficiently," said PMA president Joseph Miniace.

The main issue in the contract negotiations is shippers' desire to bring more automated systems to the ports, which the union leaders fear will cost jobs.

"We cannot budge on outsourcing of our work. We cannot ever agree with an employer that's willing to take our work and give it to others," said ILWU president James Spinosa.

"What they're looking for is a buyout with this union and our work force, and allow for others to do our work. Totally unacceptable. We will not move in that direction."

The union asked its members Thursday to adhere strictly to safety rules and speed limits, and not to work extended shifts, which shippers say is the equivalent of a work slowdown.

"The PMA ... [is] making false claims regarding an alleged work slowdown to cover the fact that they have refused to negotiate with the ILWU on a reasonable technology proposal," the union said in a statement posted on its Web site.

The White House has been keeping an eye on the dispute and could step in if it threatens to seriously affect the economy. If the shutdown lasts for an extended period, it could cost the economy $1 billion per day.

The lockout occurs during the busiest time of the year for shippers, which are beginning to transport Christmas goods to stores.

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