Board Of Inquiry Examines West Coast Port Closures

By John S. McClenahen Large integrated factories that carry little or no inventory would clearly benefit from at least a temporary reopening of West Coast U.S. ports under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. More than $7 billion in auto parts and components comes through West Coast ports each year -- as does $1.8 billion in aircraft parts, estimates the Washington, D.C.- based National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). A three-person board of inquiry headed by former U.S. Labor Secretary William Brock is slated to report on the facts of the work stoppage to President George W. Bush no later than the end of today, October 8. If, after receiving the report, Bush directs Attorney General John Ashcroft to seek a court injunction to halt the work stoppage and a court issues the injunction, an 80-day cooling-off period would begin. During that time, the ports would reopen and employees would return to work. If there's no settlement after 60 days of the 80-day period have passed, the board of inquiry must submit a report on settlement efforts, and the National Labor Relations Board would conduct a secret-ballot vote among dockworkers on management's last settlement offer. If that were to be rejected and the court injunction runs out, the work stoppage could resume. "It's never a happy occasion when the federal government has to get involved in labor disputes," says NAM President Jerry J. Jasinowski. "But there are times when the potential damage to the rest of the economy is just too great to ignore, and the president clearly recognizes that this is such a time."

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