Sides should stop bickering, reopen ports

The United States economy has lost one billion dollars every day since Sunday, and we can’t blame it all on the stock market. It’s the result of a tense contract dispute.

All 29 ports on the West Coast, from San Diego to Vancouver, have been shut down since the 10,500 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union were locked out Sunday morning. The port operators and international shipping lines, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association, made the decision to close the ports.

The reason behind the closure is legitimate but has been taken to a new level of absurdity. Both sides appear to equally deserve the blame.

Workers of the ILWU do all the dock work at the ports. Their contracts expired at the end of June, and they have been working without contracts since then. Over the past few months, they have participated in several work slowdowns, declining to work overtime and drawing up work schedules in which skilled workers were placed in jobs they knew nothing about. The slowdowns result from disagreements between the union and the PMA over pensions and benefits and the use of new technology which the association claims is necessary but over which the union wants control.

The federal government has appointed a mediator to help the two sides negotiate a new contract. Unfortunately, the entire process has been reduced to childish bickering, with the PMA bringing armed guards to the meeting Tuesday, resulting in a walkout by the ILWU.

Now, everything from factory parts to televisions and papayas are sitting idly up and down the coast.

Some factories are considering shutting down if they do not receive parts to keep their plants operational. Furthermore, there are no other places to unload the cargo because the huge container ships, mostly from Asia, are too large to fit through the Panama Canal.

Both Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and Bush have recommended that the longshoremen get back to work, with Bush attempting to spit out why it’s such a problem: “Any strike’s a tough situation, but this one happens to come at — or, a lockout is a tough situation or no work is a tough situation — this is coming at a bad time.”

With such an inarticulate president, no wonder neither side is intimidated by his threats.

There are innumerable repercussions of the port closure. People who count on the port operations for their livelihoods are having trouble making ends meet.

This includes not only the longshoremen but also the small business owners and small farmers who use the ports to trade their goods. People in Hawaii have begun to stockpile essentials such as toilet paper and rice, fearing the closure will prevent importation of needed goods.

These consequences do not account for how the Asian market is responding to the lack of trade with the United States.

All this is happening because the ILWU and the PMA are involved in a petty bickering match. There are important issues that need to be worked out, but with tensions running high and people storming out of negotiations, how is there supposed to be any progress? Both sides need to calm down. If they can’t reach an agreement soon, Bush needs to step in to help.