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Longshoremen expect ports to open

PMA: Cargo backlog will take six weeks to clear

Jen Rogers (CNN/Money)

Workers paint the cargo ship Hannover Express as she rests at anchor in the San Francisco Bay.
Workers paint the cargo ship Hannover Express as she rests at anchor in the San Francisco Bay.

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With negotiations between West Coast dockworkers and the Pacific Maritime Association stalled, the U.S. president took the first step to intervene in the dispute. CNNfn's Casey Wian reports (October 8)
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SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- Members of the union representing dockworkers in 29 West Coast ports said Tuesday they expect to be told to return to work later in the day.

Representatives of both the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which operates the ports, met Monday with the board of inquiry appointed by President Bush.

After that meeting, PMA locals started calling to order work crews for Tuesday night shifts, said ILWU spokesman Steve Stallone.

The board of inquiry is required to send a report to Bush by midnight Tuesday, advising the president on whether he should step in to end the ports lockout, which has choked off trade between the United States and Asia since September 27.

Union attorneys expect the report much earlier in the day, Stallone said.

Bush could impose the Taft-Hartley Act to seek a court order forcing the two sides back to work and back to the negotiating table for a period of 80 days.

"The president looks forward to receiving the report from (the board) that he named," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer aboard Air Force One en route Knoxville, Tennessee, where Bush delivered a speech.

"He expects to receive the report sometime today, and he will review the report once he receives it."

Union representatives warned that even if that's done, there are still a lot of issues on the table and much work to do, meaning the dispute could remain unsettled even after the 80 days.

One major sticking point in the dispute involves the question of who will control new jobs evolving out of improvements in cargo-tracking technology used on the waterfront.

Locked out dockworkers picket at Terminal 18 in Seattle, Washington.
Locked out dockworkers picket at Terminal 18 in Seattle, Washington.

The dispute is causing significant problems for many sectors of the United States economy, including retail, manufacturing and agriculture.

The cost of the work stoppage now is estimated at about $2 billion a day, and that could grow if additional factories are forced to shut down for lack of necessary parts. There are 200 ships anchored off the coast waiting to load and unload cargo.

The PMA has said that once the ports are reopened it will take six weeks for the backlog of goods to be cleared and operations to resume normally.

The three-member board of inquiry is chaired by Bill Brock, who served as Labor Secretary in the Reagan administration from 1985 to 1987. Brock is also a former U.S. trade representative and former U.S. Senator.

The other two members are labor experts from two law schools -- Patrick Hardin of the University of Tennessee and Dennis Nolan of the University of South Carolina.

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