Plant closures inevitable even if ports reopen, business leaders warn

By Simon Avery
Saturday October 05, 2002

LOS ANGELES – Even if the West Coast dock shutdown ends soon, many U.S. factories may have to shut down anyway because the parts they need will be caught in a huge backlog of cargo, business leaders said Friday. 

“It’s a foregone conclusion that assembly lines are going to close down,” said Robin Lanier, executive director of the West Coast Waterfront Coalition, which represents retailers and transportation companies that rely on the ports. 

Even if President Bush immediately invokes the Taft-Hartley Act and declares an 80-day cooling-off period, manufacturers will not be able to avoid interruptions on their assembly lines, she said. 

“The challenge is going to be the chaos and bedlam on the water as they try to pull things out,” said Michael Damer, spokesman for New United Motor Manufacturing near the port of Oakland, which has been idle since Wednesday, halting the assembly of Toyota and Pontiac cars and trucks. 

Household names in American manufacturing may run out of parts and be forced to shut down their assembly lines in the next few days, said Darren McKinney, spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers. 

“They are running up against the wall very quickly,” he said. 

Nissan and Boeing were among the companies feeling the pinch from the shutdown that began Sunday at the nation’s 29 West Coast ports in Washington, Oregon and California. The shutdown is costing the U.S. economy an estimated $2 billion a day. 

Almost 200 ships laden with Asian cargo were left waiting along the coast, cutting off supplies for manufactures and retailers awaiting holiday goods. 

Union Pacific, the nation’s largest railroad, had 55 trains parked across the western United States, unable to move cargo. Grain shipments bound for export are sitting in warehouses and growers of perishable goods like apples and citrus worry that their harvests will not reach lucrative Asian markets. 

On Friday, dockworkers and management met for a second day with a federal mediator in an effort to reach a new contract before the weekend. 

Business groups pushed for government intervention and met Friday with officials at the White House. 

“We will make the case abundantly clear that an extended shutdown of the ports will have a catastrophic effect on the economy,” McKinney said.