President could declare a national economic
emergency to keep West Coast workers on the job
WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is prepared to block a work slowdown or strike by West Coast port workers should contract negotiations fail, Labor Department officials said Monday.
The administration is exploring several options to intervene to keep cargo moving, though the most likely is for President Bush to declare a national economic emergency, forcing a strike delay for 80 days.
The last time such authority was invoked under the Taft-Hartley Act was 1978, when President Carter unsuccessfully tried to end a national coal strike.
The Bush administration has convened a special task force with officials from the Commerce, Labor, Transportation and Homeland Security departments, and has been exploring federal intervention, monitoring talks and meeting with both sides, the officials said, insisting on anonymity.
A work slowdown or walkout by the 10,500 port workers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union could have a devastating effect on the world economy. The union’s contract with the Pacific Maritime Association controls the flow of about $260 billion in cargo through America’s 29 major West Coast ports.
The contract expired July 1, and so far, there’s been little progress toward a new agreement. Technology has been a major focus of negotiations. Pacific Rim trade is projected to double in the next decade, and shipping lines complain West Coast ports won’t be able to keep up unless they upgrade to more closely match their more automated Asian peers.
The talk of intervention by the Bush administration shouldn’t come as a surprise. President Bush has aggressively intervened in other union strikes, but through presidential powers under a different labor law reserved for airline and railroad disputes.
Last December, he signed an executive order one day before a strike deadline, imposing a “cooling-off” period between United Airlines and its mechanics. Both sides later accepted a settlement proposed by the presidential emergency board.
In March 2001, Bush intervened four days before Northwest Airline mechanics’ strike deadline, barring a walk out. An agreement was later reached. At American Airlines, just hours before Bush planned to step in and block a strike by flight attendants in June 2001, both sides came to an agreement.