Judge Backs Bush Over Ports, Orders Paralyzed West Coast Docks Reopened

By Agence France-Presse A U.S. federal judge ordered the immediate reopening of paralyzed West Coast ports Oct. 8, backing President George W. Bush's legal bid to break a crippling 10-day trade gridlock. The ruling came just hours after Bush became the first U.S. leader in 25 years to invoke his authority to intervene in a labor dispute economists say is costing America up to $2 billion a day and is undermining the fragile economies of key Asian exporting nations. U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, sitting in San Francisco, granted the government a temporary injunction ordering the reopening of 29 shuttered U.S. Pacific ports and requiring workers to report for duty immediately. Alsup agreed with Washington's argument that the dispute was endangering U.S. industry and national health and safety, noting the U.S. West Coast was "full of loaded ships and the docks are full of rotting perishables. "It is abundantly clear that the present lockout . . . affects entire industries," he said. Alsup said he would decide on whether to make his temporary injunction permanent at a hearing scheduled for next week. The Bush government invoked the rarely used Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 that suspends for 80 days the lockout of unionized workers imposed Sept. 29 by shipping line bosses amid a long-running labor contract dispute. The move came amid growing pressure from suffering U.S. industries and came on the same day a second auto factory making Japanese vehicles halted operations after its supplies of imported parts were choked off by the lockout. "Because the operation of western ports is vital to our economy and to our military, I have determined that the current situation imperils our national health and safety," Bush said. "The crisis at western ports is hurting the economy, it is hurting the security of our country and the federal government must act." Government lawyers presented evidence that the shutdown endangered 600,000 jobs. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the lockout would "potentially reduce U.S. military readiness," but union bosses said military traffic had never been affected by the lockout. While the judge ordered an immediate end to the lockout, union officials said the first shift of longshoremen would likely not begin work until 6 p.m. Oct. 9. "We cannot resume operations today as we have to order crews," said Steve Stallone of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. "Any delay is purely logistical." Stallone and other union officials said they were "extremely disappointed" with the decision, saying it was the result of collusion between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents shippers, and the government. "We wanted to return to work, but not under the punitive provisions of the Taft-Hartley," Stallone said. "The traditional economic force of collective bargaining was working. "This just gives the PMA 80 days in which to harass us, drain our money supplies and to try and have our leaders jailed." The secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Richard Trumka, branded the move "unprecedented" and claimed that "no president has ever been so overtly on the side of management." However, shippers, who locked out workers 10 days ago alleging they were staging a go-slow strike, ironically welcomed the government intervention. Despite the forced breakthrough, operations at West Coast ports -- which are besieged by more than 200 ships waiting to unload their cargoes -- are unlikely to return to normal for up to 100 days as workers move to clear the huge backlog, analysts predicted. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2002

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