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Talks to End West Coast Port Dispute Remain Deadlocked - 2002-10-02

More than 10,000 dockworkers remained off the job at U.S. west coast ports Wednesday, as the effects of the four day closure rippled through the U.S. economy. The union for the dockworkers has called off negotiations.

Union negotiators stormed out of a meeting Tuesday, canceling bargaining talks with representatives of the port terminal operators. Jay Luero of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said he was angry that the chief negotiator for the ports brought armed guards to the meeting.

"If he had any due respect for the shippers, the economy and the people who need their goods shipped, he should come to the table without armed guards," he said.

A spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the terminal operators, says it hired two armed guards after a threat on the life of its president, but the guards did not enter the meeting room.

The shutdown of all 29 major west coast ports began Sunday, when management locked out the workers, accusing them of staging labor slowdowns. The closure is costing U.S. businesses an estimated $1 billion a day.

President Bush says it comes at a bad time for the U.S. economy. He has the authority to intervene, but spokesman Ari Fleischer says the president prefers that the two parties reach an agreement on their own.

At the adjoining ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, normally the busiest shipping facility in the United States, dozens of ships were anchored offshore, loaded with produce, electronic goods, apparel and other items.

Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce president Rusty Hammer visited the port and said members of his association are worried.

"I've talked with small business owners throughout Los Angeles, throughout Southern California, who are in the business of being wholesalers and retailers, whose shelves will soon be empty," he explained.

The port closure comes at a time when businesses are usually stocking up for the Christmas selling season.

The contract talks are deadlocked over the issue of new technology, which the unions fear will cost their members jobs.