West Coast seaports reopen for day; no contract breakthrough

AP News
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Posted: Feb 13, 2015 8:45 PM
West Coast seaports reopen for day; no contract breakthrough

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Seaports from Southern California to Seattle reopened — for a day — as negotiators labored to resolve a crippling contract dispute and resume the free flow of international trade across the West Coast waterfront.

Friday was a reprieve of sorts, a normal workday with normal work crews.

On Thursday, none of the massive cargo ships crammed with products from Asia were unloaded at the 29 ports — and none will be worked Saturday through Monday, either. Waters off Los Angeles, Oakland and Washington's Puget Sound have become parking lots for dozens of ships awaiting space at the docks.

Employers are locking out dockworkers who man the cranes that lift cargo on and off ships, saying they have slowed work as a bargaining tactic. Wages are higher on weekends and Presidents Day, and operators of marine terminals don't want to pay the premium for what they characterize as a "strike with pay."

Companies may still call smaller work crews that would take containers already stacked on dockside yards and put them on trucks or trains, where they'd finally enter the flow of commerce.

The dockworkers' union denies slowing down and says its members want to help relieve congestion at the ports that began building months ago. Since then, containers that used to take two or three days to clear the docks have been taking a week or more.

Talks on a new dockworkers' contract began in May and stalled in recent weeks. Negotiators met Friday with a federal mediator, but there was no breakthrough.

A key sticking point is how to arbitrate future workplace disputes. Several other issues have been on the table, including pay. The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators and shipping lines, says average wages exceed $50 an hour. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union says wages are set between $26 to $36 an hour — though many shifts carry a premium over that range.

Meanwhile, the effects of strife at ports that handle about one-quarter of U.S. international trade continued to reverberate through the U.S. economy.

Honda Motor Co. said it would slow production for at least a week at six factories in Ohio, Indiana and Canada due to parts shortages. Those parts either are stuck in containers that haven't moved from crowded dockside yards, or on ships that can't dock because there's no room.

The automaker plans to trim production between Monday and Feb. 23, with factories shutting down for either full or half-days. Dealers haven't run short of cars yet and Honda hopes the dispute will end before that happens, Steve Kinkade said in an email.

Exporters also have suffered. In the latest example, Northwest Hardwoods said it will cut production at three mills in Washington or Oregon, according to vice president Brian Narramore.

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Auto Writer Tom Krisher contributed from Detroit.

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Contact Justin Pritchard at http://twitter.com/lalanewsman .