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Agreement Reached in Western Ports Dispute

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Both sides in the West Coast ports strike have agreed to a tentative deal that would end the dispute. Peter Hurtgen, head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, made the announcement on Sunday.

The agreement still must be approved by a majority of the 10,500 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Hurtgen offered few details but did say that the agreement offered pay increases for dockworkers while, at the same time, easing their concerns over being squeezed out of their jobs by new technology--the concern that drove dockworkers to strike in the first place, several weeks ago.

The 29 ports--in California, Oregon, and Washington--handle more than $300 billion in trade annually and account for more than half of all containerized cargo moving in and out of the country.

The lockout forced automakers to charter cargo planes to airlift parts to stalled assembly lines and left millions of dollars' worth of crops, meat and poultry in danger of rotting on the docks. Some estimates calculated the loss at up to $2 billion a day.

Judge William Alsop issued the order to reopen the ports at the request of President Bush, who cited the Taft-Hartley Act as giving him the authority to intervene in the dispute.

The last time a president sought to intervene under the Taft-Hartley Act was in 1978, when a court refused then-President Carter's request for an 80-day cooling-off period in a coal miner's strike but ordered miners back to work under a temporary restraining order.

As for the present dispute, a select group of 100 rank-and-file members will meet December 9 to approve the agreement. They will then visit hiring halls in 29 major Pacific ports to urge dock workers to approve the contract offer.

An agreement is expected before the end of the year.

Graphics courtesy of ArtToday

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