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Dock Workers Criticize Bush Move Seeking Re-Opening of Ports - 2002-10-07

Dockworkers have criticized a move by President Bush that could lead to the re-opening of West Coast U.S. ports. The ports have been closed for the past week in a labor dispute that has cost U.S. businesses billions of dollars. The president is considering a move that could force the workers back on the job.

Mr. Bush has ordered a board of inquiry that could lead to an 80-day back-to-work order for the dockworkers, who were locked out of their jobs by management one week ago Sunday. Management had said the workers were staging a slowdown, which the workers deny.

U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao welcomed the president's action. "The country has been patient. We have been patient. But now, ordinary Americans are being seriously harmed by this dispute," he said.

The administration official said U.S. factory workers are being laid off because parts are not being delivered, and meat and poultry are rotting in shipping containers.

Nearly 200 ships are docked at West Coast ports, or are sitting in harbors.

The fact-finding board is being impaneled under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which permits the president to request a court injunction for an 80-day cooling off period, if a work stoppage threatens national health and safety. The three-member board of inquiry is expected to gather data in support of an injunction.

Dockworkers say they want to go back to work, but not until a new contract is in place. And they say, they do not want federal intervention. "We don't need President Bush. We don't need the Taft-Hartley Act," they shouted.

Their old contract expired in July.

Some business owners, including truckers, manufacturers and farmers, are urging President Bush to take action. Farmer John Gless says he cannot get his shipments of oranges and grapefruit to overseas markets.

"It's going to be harder to catch up, and probably we will not be able to catch up, if another week goes by.

The dispute is over new technology that is being proposed for the ports, which the dockworkers fear will cost them jobs.