Judge orders ports opened
Work to resume Wednesday evening, following judge's mandate; hearing set for next week.
October 9, 2002: 10:09 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The West Coast ports are slated to reopen Wednesday evening after a federal judge ordered a temporary restraining order to end a labor dispute that has choked U.S.-Asian trade and cost the struggling U.S. economy an estimated $2 billion a day.

Dockworker Nick Padovan and other locked out members of his union could be back to work as early as Wednesday  
Dockworker Nick Padovan and other locked out members of his union could be back to work as early as Wednesday

President Bush had sought a court order to force operators of 29 ports from Seattle to San Diego to reopen to dockworkers, who earlier accused management of being in cahoots with the government.

Following the Justice Department request, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco ordered both sides back to work temporarily while also requiring them to appear at an injunction hearing one week from Wednesday.

"The lockout is over as of now, at least for the duration of this order," Judge Alsup said.

Tuesday's temporary restraining order lasts until 5 p.m. on October 17, a day after the hearing. It is likely that the week the ports are open before Wednesday's hearing would count as part of the Taft-Hartley 80-day cooling-off period, a legal source close to the case told CNNfn.

Judge Alsup also warned the union not to engage in the slowdowns that management has accused it of.

The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), the management group that represents major shipping lines and terminal operators that locked out the union, had estimated that it could reopen the ports within one shift after any court order, or as soon as Wednesday.

Pickets were being pulled from the docks, and orders for workers began going in as soon as the judge made his order.


Richard Mead, president of ILWU Local 10 in San Francisco, expected work to resume around 7 p.m. PT Wednesday at the docks in his area.

Meanwhile, about 200 ships remained anchored off the coast waiting to load or unload cargo. Millions of dollars of fruits and vegetables are rotting while waiting to be shipped. The lockout has disrupted the flow of parts needed for assembly lines and could make it tough for retailers to stock shelves as the holiday shopping season approaches.

When ports reopen, questions will remain about when containers of goods and foods, automobiles and bulk items such as grain, coal and forest products will be able to start flowing again at a normal pace.

PMA CEO Joseph Miniace estimated that it will take at least six weeks to work through the freight backlog, assuming union members work at normal levels of productivity. But he said it was uncertain that such "normal" productivity levels will be achieved.

Bush steps in

The president's invocation of the Taft-Hartley Act, last used by President Jimmy Carter, had been expected. A panel he appointed said Tuesday it had "no confidence" that the two parties would resolve the dispute "within a reasonable time."

"This dispute between management and labor cannot be allowed to further harm the economy, and force thousands of working Americans from their jobs," Bush said in remarks just before 4 p.m. ET outside the White House.

Moments before Bush announced that he was requesting the 80-day stay, the dockworkers' union agreed to return to work Wednesday under a 30-day contract extension, a move that management said is "nothing but a band-aid on a serious wound."

The invocation of the Taft-Hartley Act "was something we had hoped to avoid but was clearly something (management) wanted," said Steve Stallone, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

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President Bush seeks a court order to force operators of ports to reopen as soon as Wednesday.

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The PMA, meanwhile, said Bush "acted in the best interests of the country, the economy and our national security."

A group that speaks for the nation's retailers praised Bush's move, which comes amid criticism that the president has focused too much on Iraq at the expense of the economy.

"We hope that the courts act promptly and grant the president's request for an injunction," Tracy Mullin, CEO of the National Retail Federation said in a statement.

A New York Times/CBS News poll published Monday showed that Americans want Bush to spend more time on an economy whose recovery has proven stubborn. The stock market, which has been falling for six straight weeks, rose Tuesday as news of the Bush intervention leaked out.

Retail stocks Wal-Mart (WMT: Research, Estimates), Home Depot (HD: Research, Estimates) and Target (TGT: Research, Estimates) all rallied.

Bush's move risks alienating labor unions, which traditionally vote for Democrats, four weeks before mid-term elections will determine control of Congress.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union said the president's move favors port operators.

"Taft-Hartley fits in with their bargaining strategy," Lindsay McLaughlin, legislative director for the ILWU told CNNfn's Money & Markets. He said the union would comply.

PMA had accused the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of waging work slowdowns, which management said amounted to union requests to have a "strike with pay."

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While the union, which has 10,500 members, has continually denied that accusation, it was allegations of slowdowns that prompted the PMA to lock out the union for 38 hours on Sept. 27. After reopening the ports briefly on Sept. 29, PMA said the union again engaged in slowdowns and locked out the union indefinitely that evening.

The two sides can not agree on how new technology should affect union jobs.

As for the court of public opinion, an unscientific CNN/Money poll found that most readers favor management in the dispute.

Clearing the backlog

Union officials, while denying a slowdown, say that the extra volume of freight will create safety problems that will slow work at the ports, and that their members will not be forced into a speed-up of work to deal with the lockout-created backlog.

Even if the union and rank and file members cooperate fully with the court order, there is not enough labor available to work all the ships waiting to enter the ports, said Don Wylie, managing director of maritime services for the Port of Long Beach. Wylie said normal flows of work allow some staggering of work as ships come and go to his port's 40 berths.

"They all won't be able to come in and start working right away. They'll be worked as labor is available," he said. "Even under normal circumstances this time of year it's not unusual to have some labor shortages because of peak season."

The trucks and railroads also will have equipment problems that will slow their ability to carry the freight to and from the ports, according to John Bromley, spokesman for Union Pacific, the nation's largest railroad.

Jimmy Carter was the last president to seek to use Taft-Hartley to end a work stoppage in the coal industry in 1978, the Associated Press reported. The court refused to order the 80-day cooling-off period but did order miners back to work under a temporary restraining order.  Top of page

-- from staff and wire reports

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