Bush acts in national interest to open ports
October 9, 2002
The labor dispute that has closed West Coast ports may seem like somebody else’s problem, but the effects are hitting home in Northern Nevada with increasing severity every day.
That’s why President George Bush’s decision to seek a court-ordered “cooling off” period to keep the ports open for two months is a wholly justified move, even if it is the first such action in almost 25 years.
The last president to seek to use the Taft-Hartley Act to end a work stoppage was Jimmy Carter, who asked for a court order to put coal miners back to work in 1978.
There are plenty of politically charged elements to Bush’s move, but the bottom line is that dock strikes are crippling the economy at an extremely unsettled time. He is acting in the national interest, we believe, by trying to get the ports open while the details of a settlement are negotiated.
We aren’t familiar enough with the negotiations that have gone on — and broken down repeatedly — to point a finger at workers or management. We do know it is the type of dispute that has been common since the beginning of the industrial age.
Workers are concerned they will lose jobs to technology. For example, companies want to be able to use scanners — like the ones the checkout clerks use at your neighborhood grocery store — to track incoming shipments.
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The dock workers like the old-fashioned way — a clerk with a pencil and a clipboard — because it means more jobs. The real sticking point, however, is whether the new jobs created by technology will be inside or outside the union.
These are not small matters. The International Longshore & Warehouse Union International represents every dock worker up and down the coast, giving it the power to disrupt the nation’s economy.
It’s also powerful enough that it has ratched up salaries to an average of $80,000 a year for dock workers, with the most experienced foremen bringing in $167,000 a year.
“We believe that the seeds of distrust have been widely sown, poisoning the atmosphere of mutual trust and respect which could enable a resolution of seemingly intractable issues,” President Bush’s special board of inquiry reported to him on Tuesday.
That was enough to convince him to act, and by acting reopen West Coast ports to prevent further harm to everyone in the business world east of them.