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West Coast Dockworkers Set to Return to Work - 2002-10-09

With 29 West Coast U.S. ports set to reopen, port operators face the task of unloading billions of dollars in cargo stacked on some 200 ships offshore. Dockworkers are scheduled to return to work late Wednesday, but the labor dispute that led to the shutdown has not been resolved.

Manufacturers whose plants have been idled for lack of parts are applauding the reopening, as are retailers waiting for toys, apparel, and appliances for Christmas shoppers. Food companies are hoping to salvage fresh produce that has been sitting at the ports in shipping containers.

Tuesday, President Bush said the administration had been granted a court injunction that will put port workers back on the job, temporarily. "This dispute between management and labor cannot be allowed to further harm the economy," he said.

The workers were locked out of their jobs September 29 after management accused them of staging a slowdown, a charge they deny. The dispute is over plans to introduce new technology into the shipping process, which the workers worry will eliminate some jobs.

Estimates suggest the labor stoppage has cost the United States at least $1 billion a day, and maybe as much as $2 billion. It has also hurt exporters in Asia.

Union workers are unhappy with the injunction, which the president requested under labor laws called the Taft-Hartley Act. It provides for an 80 day cooling off period if a work stoppage threatens the national health or safety.

Barbara Dabb of the AFL-CIO, a U.S. labor organization, says Mr. Bush has sided with management and is trying to weaken the union. "We absolutely believe that it's union busting," she said. "The president is not a friend of labor and hasn't been, and at this point, that's our biggest concern, is that we're able to keep the American process of collective bargaining moving forward."

Truckers who haul cargo were waiting in Los Angeles for the ports to reopen Wednesday. Driver Leo Verdugo said he wants to see cargo moving and has little sympathy with the dock workers. "Because they don't give a damn about anyone else," said Leo Verdugo. "They have their own problems. I don't claim to understand it. We all worry about ourselves."

Port officials say unloading the backlog of ships could take as long as 10 weeks.