November 24, 2002
West Coast longshoremen and shipping companies late Saturday reached a tentative contract agreement that would include wage and benefit improvements for dockworkers and technology improvements for ship owners, according to the Associated Press and other wire services.The agreement, which still needs to be ratified by a majority of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, could end the drawn-out labor dispute that shut down the coast's major ports for 10 days and prompted President Bush to intervene.Peter Hurtgen, head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, praised both sides for their leadership in reaching an agreement late Saturday evening. Longshoremen are expected to vote on the six-year contract in early January, according to union president Jim Spinosa.The biggest block to a successful conclusion to the long dispute centered on the insistence by the Pacific Maritime Assn. (PMA) that computerized cargo tracking systems would make work at the ports more efficient.Representatives of the longshoremen said the modernized systems would cost the union about 400 jobs. In addition, the union wanted increased compensation and pension benefits. Details of the agreement were not outlined, but Joseph Miniace, president of the PMA said, "With this contract, we are ushering in a new era of modernization."The PMA locked out dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports for 10 days in late September, leading Bush to invoke the Taft-Hartley law to open the docks Oct. 9. The lockout began after the companies accused the union of an illegal work slowdown to gain leverage in the contract negotiations.Some economists estimated that the U.S. economy lost $1 billion each day as cargo piled up at the docks and ships waited at anchor offshore. Some factories shut down for lack of supplies. Bush was the first president in 24 years to invoke the emergency provision of the Taft-Hartley Act in an attempt to halt a labor dispute. He also was the first president in history to use the act to stop a lockout, not a strike.