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October 3, 2002

More negotiations in ports dispute
Yesterday saw glimmers of hope for resolution of the dispute between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union that has resulted in a lockout at U.S. West Coast ports.

Both parties agreed to accept the help of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services for the purpose of resolving the technology issues that separate them. The sessions start today at an as yet undisclosed location.

While the ILWU was emphatic that only the technology issue would be on the table, s statement yesterday from Tom Edwards, PMA's Northern California Manager, appeared to indicate a desire for wider discussions.

"The PMA accepts the offer of mediation, and looks forward to participating in a productive meeting tomorrow with the federal mediator and the union," said Edwards."We hope this signals a breakthrough, and we look forward to discussing with the union the steps that will enable the ports to re-open."

In another development, the ILWU said yesterday that a ship at the Sealand Terminal in Oakland carrying military cargo would be the first vessel to goout to sea from a West Coast port since the lockout began on Sunday.

That ship, the Maersk Innovator, was scheduled to sail at 4:00 p.m. yesterdayday. It was partially loaded before the lockout, but was unable to set sail before the PMA shut down all West Coast ports. "This is the first crack in the PMA lockout," said ILWU Local 10 President Richard Mead. "But we finally convinced PMA to order longshore workers out of the hall and get the essential military cargo out." Meantime, the economic costs of the lockout are starting to mount. Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel for the National Retail Federation, said reatilers have lost "hundreds of millions of dollars" in revenues and inventory costs.

If the shut down continues, he said, retailers may be forced to shut down distribution centers and lay off workers. "Excess inventory is a cost that worsens every day," he said.

Manufacturers, too, are starting to feel the pain. New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., a Toyota-GMC joint venture in Fremont, Calif., yesterday shut down assembly because of a parts shortage. Production of Toyota Corolla sedans and Tacoma pickups and Pontiac Vibe sport wagons was disrupted. A spokesman said that if the ports were to reopen today, the passenger car line could be running again by Friday morning. But it would be Monday at least before truck production could resume. If the standoff isn't resolved by week's end, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wants President George W. Bush to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act. This would force the ports to reopen for an 80-day cooling-off period. "With our nation in the economic doldrums and at the brink of war, we cannot afford to have this dispute cause further damage to our economy," she said.

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